Herald-Whig View

Details begin to emerge about Veterans Home

Posted: Nov. 4, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Nov. 5, 2018 8:00 am

TWO weeks ago, we wrote here that we had growing concerns about a lack of transparency in planning for the future at the Illinois Veterans Home.

Today, we are happy to report that we now have seen projected bed counts, and based on that information, we are confident that plans at the home are on the right track.

With our agreement that we would not publish exact numbers, an official in Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration provided a breakdown of bedcounts and categories of care. In fact, between 50 and 90 new skilled-care beds could be added, allowing more veterans and their spouses to receive the top-quality care in a loving environment that has become the home's hallmark.

This would push the number of skilled-care beds beyond 400. This is a key number because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reimburses its Illinois counterpart $107.16 per resident per day for this skill level in the current fiscal year. While the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs provides most of the money to run the home, the federal per diem greatly offsets the cost to Illinois taxpayers. Any reduction in the number of skilled-care beds could have been disastrous for the home.

A look at some publicly available numbers and facts now, though, provides some insight into the plans.

Based on renderings shown at an October open house at the Veterans Home, the Elmore and Shapers buildings would need to be demolished for the new building being planned. Those buildings are licensed to care for 150 people in skilled care.

We know, though, those numbers will be picked up by the 150 skilled-care beds to be made available in the newly dedicated and soon-to-open Lester Hammond Hall. At that building's dedication, we were told there would be 150 skilled-care beds there.

We also have been told that Fifer Hall likely would remain in use to care for veterans, and that building can provide care for up to 106 people.

An IDVA talking points document leaked ahead of the open house showed a range of 170 to 220 skilled care beds in the new building.

Even based on the low end, the home could provide 426 skilled-care beds.

The home's census now fluctuates around 335, which has declined over the past decade as the number of living World War II and Korean War veterans has fallen, which points to another key component of the plans still being made. The new building also could be used to provide behavioral care for veterans in need of those services as part of a pilot program being developed by the federal VA and the state of Illinois.

Rooms in the building will be designed for flexibility in care, which will allow it to be used to care for veterans in need of varying services for years to come, keeping it functional and showing good financial stewardship from those involved in the planning.

Domiciliary care, commonly referred to as independent care, also would be a key component of the plan. Each domiciliary unit would be an independent, modern apartment with private bathrooms and kitchenettes. There also would be a mix of units designed for single residents and couples.

This number has not been finalized, but it is our hope that up to 100 such units would be available. This would be vital because domiciliary care is a feeder of sorts into skilled care, allowing a deeper relationship between residents and staff at the home.

While we wish we could share more, we are quite pleased with what we now have seen. This is especially true because of the people vouching for the plan: Mike Hoffman, the senior adviser to Rauner who has been leading the battle against Legionella at the home, and Troy Culbertson, the home's superintendent.

Both have shown exceptional leadership in working to remediate the Legionella outbreak. More importantly, they show a level of personal care for our nation's heroes that is nothing short of inspiring.

The timeline calls for the master plan to be completed and published by mid-December. An architecture firm, Perkins Eastman, already has been hired to design the new building. It's our hope over the coming few weeks to see more information, further lifting our hopes for the Illinois Veterans Home's future.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the Nov. 6 election that could bring significant changes at the IDVA. For his part, though, Hoffman has said that should this happen, he and everyone else involved with the plan would continue to work as professionally as possible to keep moving forward on behalf of current and future residents at the home and to facilitate as smooth a transition as possible.

While we wait to see final details, we breathe much easier knowing these plans are in the works, and we thank the IDVA for putting our minds at ease.