Over vocal protests from the Service Employees International Union, the Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded part of a large contract to Beverly Enterprises.
Beverly, based in Fort Smith, Ark., is one of seven nursing home cha ins that last month got multistate contracts to care for veterans as part of a VA effort to cut down on administrative costs (Sept. 23, p. 12). The contract covers 1,101 facilities in 43 states, of which 423 are Beverly homes.
The V A spends $356 million annually on its community nursing home program.There was no estimate of revenues Beverly might gain from the contract.
The SEIU has been waging trench warfare against Beverly for years, alleging that it has fai led to abide by labor relations law. It also says Beverly's quality of care is poor.
Beverly denies the allegations.
In the union's latest tactic against the nursing home giant, SEIU President Andrew Stern sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown in June, saying that Beverly's "history of repeatedly breaking the law proves that this company does not have the integrity and business ethics that the law requires of all federal contractors." Th e SEIU argued that Beverly should be ineligible to participate in the VA contract.
Linda Stalvey, spokeswoman for the VA, said the department reviewed the Beverly material from the SEIU. The VA also sampled Beverly reports on HCFA's Online Survey Certification and Retrieval System.
"Any of the facilities that had quality problems were removed from that multistate contract," Stalvey said. "And we have internal reviews to assess nursing home quality. We feel that our internal reviews are sufficient to handle problems with Beverly or any other nursing home provider. . . . If it warrants additional oversight, we will provide that."
The union met with the VA secretary before and after the contracts were awarded, Stalvey said. "We have been sensitive to open communications with the union."
David Snapp, a Washington SEIU strategist, said the union's efforts helped contribute to the inspection visits but that it was disappointed the VA "didn't decide not to issue a contract to Beverly at all."
But the contracts include a new provision that says the VA will provide follow-up visits to monitor care, he said. "The VA will terminate the contrac t if there are a series of conditions at more than one nursing home which adversely affect the quality of care," Snapp said. "It seems to me this gives the VA the tools to keep a close look at what's going on."
Jeff Amann, direct or of communications for Beverly Health and Rehabilitation Services, said: "That the VA has chosen us as one of the preferred providers speaks for itself. The VA has confidence in our quality care and what we provide as an organiz ation."