BENNINGTON -- Vermont Veterans' Home officials are seeking to improve the facility's fiscal health through more direct state funding, the activation of a nonprofit friends group, and increased marketing.

Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph Krawczyk Jr. spoke at Wednesday's meeting of the visit to the Vermont Legislature that he and fellow home officials made earlier in the week to go over the home's budget.

"The reception we got up there was amazing," he said.

On Tuesday they appeared before five separate legislative committees.

"One of the risks I took -- my risk and if it fails, it's my fault -- is to convince the legislature -- ‘if you want a veterans' home in the state of Vermont, you must understand that you're going to have to come up with General Fund money to do it,'" Krawczyk said.

While it costs on average $425 per day to care for each patient, the home only gets $325 in reimbursement. "So where's that other 25 percent going to come from?" he asked.

At a conference in Nashville, Krawczyk said he's learned that "there's not one of 147 homes in country that budget the same way. Many of the homes are funded totally out of state general fund money. ...In New Hampshire it's 100 percent out of general fund."

He told the legislature that about 25 percent of the home's budget will have to come out of the state general fund "if you're serious about taking care of our veterans."

Krawczyk thinks his comments were well-received. "I know the governor understands it, I know the secretary of administration understands it, and I know now that the committees up there responsible for money understand it," he said. "And we asked for $3.3 million in general fund money for fiscal year ‘15."

He thinks this request will be approved, and next year home officials will not be forced, as they have recently, to ask for budget adjustment money.

"If they give us $3.3 [million], we do our homework correctly, we should be fine," Krawczyk said.

A ‘friends group'

Don Keelan, of Arlington, a certified public accountant and activist in veterans' causes, strongly urged the trustees to reactivate their nonprofit group, which has been dormant for several years.

Keelan, a former Marine, spoke of two great advantages a Friends of the Vermont Veterans' Home would have in raising money for its programs. A great well of support and good-feeling exists among the public for veterans, and a huge amount of wealth is being transferred from one generation to the next, he said.

A few years ago, Keelan had a client who wanted to give $1.5 million to a nonprofit that does pediatric research. "I put him in touch with a major hospital in Vermont that does that," he said, "he comes to me as a CPA, I'm just a small tiny practitioner, multiply that by all the other larger firms."

"You have a phenomenal message at a phenomenal time. Now what you need to do is find that engine that's going to do this for you," Keelan said. "And you have that engine, but it's been asleep for about eight or 10 years, that 501c3, the Friends of the Veterans' Home."

Such a friends group could fund such things as the arts program for the home's patients, which was discussed earlier in the meeting, and for implementation of a marketing campaign for the home.

"You're in the middle of a major effort to make public and brand yourselves and enhance the public image of the veterans' home through the engagement of your marketing folks and your market research and all the other things you're doing in the marketing area," Keelan said. "You are somewhat restricted ... by the state in how much you can spend on marketing."

This marketing could already have been done if a well-funded foundation for the home already existed. Such a foundation would consist of both members of the home board of trustees and other people, he said.

"I'm urging you to take a hard look at firing up that 501c3. I love the name, the Friends of the Veterans Home. Get it fired up, get trustees appointed to it and at the same time have the programming you would like to see funded, funded through that organization," Keelan said. "And please do not allow your successors down the road say we missed a great opportunity here in 2014."

Krawczyk said the friends group would need people willing to ask people with money to help the home. The group already has three home trustees on its board.

"Let's see what we find of folks out there in the community, north, south, east, and west in the state of Vermont," Krawczyk said, "see if they're willing to come out here and do this thing."

Branding the home

Later in the meeting, David Van de Water, of Marketing I Marketing and Design, East Arlington, gave the trustees some marketing materials for the home. These included a logo shaped like a shield featuring an American flag and the letters VHV underneath it.

"This is what we are going to look like in the future," said Veterans Home Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Administrator Allan Faxon. "David put together a comprehensive marketing plan, as in no restrictions, no nickel and diming, here's a comprehensive marketing plan."

However, both Faxon and CEO/Administrator Melissa Jackson said the home could not pay to implement the whole plan.

"The way to do that is with this other vehicle. So, I'm going to keep beating this drum about the Friends of the Vermont Veterans Home," Faxon said. "But you can see through the money that the board spent, these are some of the ideas that have come out."

The home has been promoting itself more in other ways. Faxon showed on an overhead the number of referrals to the home to date in 2014.

"January and February, from us getting out on the road, speaking to conferences, handing stuff out, basically being the shoe leather express, you can see we've had 45 referrals," he said. "These are incredible numbers."

In all, the home admitted 12 patients from this number. Some 29 referrals were declined; out of that, 24 were rejected for extreme behaviors, for which the home is not set up, Faxon said.

"We're going through the packages with a much finer comb than we had before," he said.

So far this year, the home's census has hit a high of 149 patients. As of Wednesday the total census was 143. During this time, there have also been four deaths and 8 discharges.

Reach Mark E. Rondeau at mrondeau@benningtonbanner.com. On Twitter @banner_religion