Vermont Veterans' Home nurses call for changes in leadership

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BENNINGTON — The nursing staff at the Vermont Veterans' Home has made public an overwhelming "no confidence" statement against nursing director Patricia Crossman, and they called for the replacement of her and her boss, CEO Melissa Jackson.

The issues cited by employees were detailed in a presentation made during a meeting Wednesday afternoon of the facility's board of trustees.

Those included allegations of management favoritism, a double standard concerning following rules or regulations, disparaging comments about workers, a lack of transparency, and a refusal to seriously discuss employee complaints.

Employees say they are calling for Jackson and Crossman to be replaced, citing what they said was long-term low morale at the facility and excessive nursing staff turnover in recent years.

Petition circulated

A copy of a petition obtained by the Banner has the signatures of 81 of the approximately 107 nurses at the Veterans' Home.

"I think these people are taking a pretty serious step, knowing that it could put a target on their backs," said Vermont State Employees Association executive director Steve Howard.

He said employees want the trustees to look hard at what they see as the inability of Jackson and Crossman to manage the facility effectively.

The union, he said, represents most of the 180 to 200 employees, other than management personnel, at the Veterans' Home.

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Nurses and local VSEA representatives said the signatures were gathered just prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, but that the emergency halted then ongoing management-labor meetings at the facility and the statement was put on hold until recently.

Nurses said Jackson and the facility's human resources department were made aware of the petition earlier, and the full board was informed Wednesday.

However, they said the actual statement with names was not submitted because some workers fear retaliation for signing, although the signatures would be turned over if the complaints are considered at another level — such as by the governor's office or a state agency.

`Unacceptable' delay

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Employees, who agreed to speak on condition their names weren't used, said they are frustrated that the trustees have not dealt with the worker dissatisfaction, and they believe it is "unacceptable" that the board isn't expected to discuss the presentation made Wednesday until their next meeting in October.

Employees and the union, they said, have been asking to meet with the board for some time to present their concerns, and the problems "have escalated over the past two or three years."

"This seems like something that can't wait," one nurse said.

Board President Joseph Krawczyk Jr. said after the presentation in an executive session that the trustees didn't feel comfortable with aspects of the lengthy PowerPoint because some of the wording was unclear. He said board members want to look at the presentation document again and will take up the matter at the October meeting.

Krawczyk said he couldn't comment further because of the personnel issues involved.

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`Faith in director'

Reached Wednesday evening, Jackson said she was not in the trustee meeting during the employee presentation. But she said she has "total faith in Pat Crossman and in her ability to manage the building and our staff."

Crossman could not be reached Wednesday.

Howard said an incident in which Jackson traveled to Washington, D.C., in late July proved a final straw to many employees. She was in Washington to give testimony before a congressional subcommittee, and then came to the Veterans' Home for a few hours upon returning without following state quarantining rules after visiting an area with a high COVID-19 rate.

Howard said employees themselves have had to adhere to strict COVID-19-related protocols because of the danger of spreading the disease among the home's vulnerable population.

Jackson said she took precautions during her trip to Washington and back but admitted stopping at the facility for several hours before going into quarantine at her residence.

She added that she "tried to ensure that I followed the guidelines for essential travel and should have started my quarantine on Thursday instead of going into the office. I apologize for my poor judgment."

Howard has said Jackson should step down over the incident.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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