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Illinois tries to fill several key job vacancies at veterans homes

Job vacancies mean room vacancies at Illinois veterans' home
Job vacancies mean room vacancies at Illinois veterans' home 03:45

CHICAGO (CBS) – CBS 2 has reported on worker shortages in the healthcare field and issues finding staff for medical facilities across the state.

Now, CBS 2 is showing the impact of those vacancies. With Veterans Day on the horizon, CBS 2's Lauren Victory visited a nursing home for heroes that needs help.

Residents at the Veterans Home at Chicago were recently heading out for the best part of their week: a visit with school kids.

Little did the seniors know, they're the best part of the week for Brittney Chitwood.

Victory: "I love that you're smiling talking about work."

Chitwood: "Haha. I know!"

While constantly crunching the numbers, the business administrator is usually behind a desk.

"I am in charge of contracts, procurement, accounts payable," Chitwood said.

When Army Sgt. Chitwood needs a break, she usually takes a stroll and chats with a comrade.

"It calms me. It makes me kind of reset and remember, this is what you're here for," she said.

It's meaningful work, even advertised as that in a hiring brochure from the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

"In a dream world, we would have 230 employees all in place to care for 200 veterans," said T'Kira Siler-Wilkerson, administrator at the Veterans Home at Chicago.

In reality, fewer than 50 veterans call the facility home. More than 150 beds are empty, even though there is a waiting list to live in one of the state-run facilities.

But what's with the hold-up?

There are more than 60 open positions, including for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nursing assistants, according to Siler-Wilkerson. Job vacancies mean room vacancies.

"We're situated within a stone's throw of other hospitals and other healthcare facilities, so I think we're all sort of all vying for the same talent," Siler-Wilkerson said.

Her facility is no stranger to delays, which CBS 2 has reported about for years. After a decade of funding issues and design flaws under previous administrations, the Gov. JB Pritzker celebrated a grand opening in 2020, but no one moved in for more than a year afterward.

Last Veterans Day, Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Terry Prince told CBS 2 that a pending certification limited the amount of time of residents to 25.

"The federal VA wants you to operate a facility at a certain level so they can ensure that your policies, your programs, your procedures are all in order," Prince said.

CBS 2 peppered Prince with questions again this year. The federal government gave the green light to welcome more veterans this May, but the building is still only a quarter occupied.

Victory: "If you were a betting man, how soon could this facility be filled?"

Prince: "I would say in the next 24 months. I really want to put it out there."

That's a goal that the department is trying to reach by getting creative.

"Can we run a program that says we'll train you to be a nurse aide in our facility?" he said. "Looking at different ways instead of waiting for people to come."

The state can't put thousands of dollars in signing bonuses on the table, but Prince told CBS 2 what they can offer over competitors.

"We do have an amazing mission here that people want to be a part of," he said.

That includes people like senior airman-turned-IT specialist Aaron Gray. He started at the facility about six months ago.

"The computers, the equipment that I work on are basically helping people," Gray said. "You get a direct reward for what you do."

He said he gets instant gratification and everyday interaction with men and women who bravely served the country. The state considers those perks of the job.

"Helping my fellow brothers and sisters in arms was something that was really important to me, to be able to give back," Chitwood said.

For the state, there's no better advertisement for meaningful work.

Workers don't need to be veterans to serve those veterans. They also don't have to be in medicine.

Some openings are for engineering, administration, and financial work. There are vacancies at all five state-run veterans homes. The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of open jobs on its website.

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