OBJECTIVE: Although a growing body of evidence suggests that culture change and its corollary, person-centered care improves resident outcomes in the nursing home setting, little is known about the effect of culture change in a postacute setting in which patients receive skilled nursing and rehabilitation services for a relatively short period of time before returning home.
DESIGN: Data for this study were collected as part of a larger project to understand the impact of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) policies to shift the mission of VHA Community Living Centers (CLCs) from long-stay custodial care to short-stay skilled nursing and rehabilitative care.
RESULTS: Although qualitative data collected during interviews from site visits to eight geographically diverse CLCs suggest an increase in the quality of life and care for veterans, interview data also indicate an unintended consequence. Specifically, staff described how aspects of the homelike environment, relationship-based care delivery, and attention to veterans' preferences that characterize culture change can prolong a veteran's length of stay beyond treatment completion. In addition to providing skilled nursing and rehabilitation, VHA CLCs also serve a latent function of providing a comfortable home and a peer community for veterans to connect and socialize with one another. A congregate living environment for persons with the shared symbolic status of being a veteran is unique to VHA CLCs. Strong bonding among peers and staff as well as staff respect for veterans' service to the country may increase their sense of obligation to keep veterans past their expected discharge date.
CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that the complexities of culture change and veteran- centered care in a short-term care setting may be underrecognized. We discuss how findings may also be relevant for the non-VHA sector.