Billings Gazette: New Miles City veterans’ nursing home announced

by Tom Lutey

A new veteran living center will be built in Miles City, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced Wednesday, following years of chronic problems at the existing facility.

Plans for the new VA nursing home have been percolating for years to address a chronic inadequacy in Eastern Montana veterans’ services. The new, 17-bed nursing home will be in the shadow of Holy Rosary Healthcare at a $6.5 million cost.

Matt Rosine, of Montana VA, said the contract for the new building was awarded to Avens Development Services, which owns the 2300 Wilson Street site where the building will be located. Veterans’ Affairs will occupy the facility on a short-term lease with Avens.

“They’re hoping to have the facility completed by the fall of ’25,” Rosine said, “but you know how construction goes.” The contract with Avens was signed Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee praised the new nursing home in a video statement as an additional step in the right direction for improving veterans’ health services in Eastern Montana. The VA opened a new primary care clinic in Miles City in 2021.

“Veterans in Miles City and across Eastern Montana deserve the best possible care and services, and that starts with making sure the facilities that serve them are top-notch,” said Tester, a Democrat facing reelection this fall. “This new Community Living Center will help deliver Montana veterans the quality long-term care they earned, and I’m proud to have worked with the community to secure funds to build this new, modern facility. It’s a big victory for Miles City, and I’ll keep holding VA accountable in ensuring this important project stays on track and opens its doors as soon as possible.”

The existing veterans’ nursing home in Miles City is located on the ground floor of an old hospital. Staffing is the bigger problem facing the nursing home, which closed for several months in 2022 for lack of personnel to care for its residents.

There are currently 12 to 14 beds occupied in the nursing home that could accommodate 17 to 18 veterans if there was more staff to care for them, Rosine said. The VA’s staffing problems in Miles City aren’t dissimilar to the other health care institutions that struggle to staff up as nurses seek better paying opportunities, like traveling gigs that pay much better.

The Miles City facility has also been found by the VA Office of Inspector General to have misdiagnosed veterans. Elder abuse has also been identified by OIG as a problem.

One patient’s lung cancer was misdiagnosed during COVID 19 treatment. He later died. As recently as December, Lee Montana Newspapers had found that Montana VA has only completed one of seven OIG recommendations for restoring adequate care.