Officials receive a 'heads up' on veteran's home funding request
WILLMAR -- Members of both the Senate and House bonding committees received information about a future funding request for a new 60- to 90-bed veterans' nursing home to be built in Willmar.
Sen. Dean Johnson and Rep. Al Juhnke, both Willmar Democrats, presented a brief overview of the proposal Thursday morning to the Senate Capital Investment Committee in Willmar. Juhnke said the two local legislators wanted to give the committee a "heads up" on the project so it wouldn't "be a surprise" when a funding request was made later during the legislative session.
During the last session, $100,000 in state money was allocated for a study and predesign by the Veterans Home Board for a veterans' home in Willmar. The original language of the bill stated that the nursing home would be located on the campus of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.
In the meantime, a deal was negotiated to sell a majority of the campus to a Willmar company for development of a technology campus. Corrective language allowed funding for a veterans' nursing home to be built anywhere within the Willmar city limits.
Johnson said the Veterans Home Board is eyeing a 60-acre parcel of land west of U.S. Highway 71 as a possible construction site. It was thought the land was part of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, but Johnson said it was discovered this spring that the land is owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
There are currently 428,000 veterans in Minnesota, according to data from the Veterans Home Board. Within a 50-mile radius of Willmar there are 19,915 veterans 55 years of age and older.
The home would provide three levels of care, including serving veterans with Alzheimer's and dementia-related illnesses; gero-psychiatry patients and swing beds. Johnson told the committee that there is not a veterans' nursing home that currently provides services for geriatric patients with mental illness, which would make the Willmar facility unique to the state.
If full funding is approved, Johnson said the facility would provide nearly 115 full-time jobs.
Predesign plans are expected to be completed later this fall.
Johnson said the Veterans Home Board is "moving ahead" with a proposal for a Willmar facility. It will be up to the 2006 Legislature whether it gets funded or not. Federal funds would pay for 65 percent of the construction cost and 60 percent of ongoing costs.
Local nursing home administrators have expressed concern in the past about a veterans' nursing home creating competition in an area that's already tight. Johnson also said some people want the Willmar facility to serve a general veterans' population, and not specialize in Alzheimer's or gero-psychiatry care.