New Veterans Home will have ‘neighborhood’ feel

COMING HOME: Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, the Bristol Veterans Home current administrator, discusses building plans for the new $94 million facility. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
COMING HOME: Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, the Bristol Veterans Home current administrator, discusses building plans for the new $94 million facility. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY

The design of a new Veterans Home in Bristol will create a more home-like environment, enable independent living and better serve future veterans of more-modern warfare than the current facility, state leaders say.
Construction on the nursing home, which will replace the nearby existing facility, has been in planning stages since 2012 and is slated to begin in late spring next year, according to Sandra Powell, director of R.I. Department of Human Services. Construction is expected to be completed in 2017, at a cost of up to $94 million.
The new design moves away from the hospital-like atmosphere of straight corridors and branching rooms. Rooms will be arranged in small “neighborhoods.” Six neighborhoods will be grouped around the facility’s “Main Street,” the communal area that will house physical and occupational therapies, an aqua-therapy pool, a chapel, a community room and more.
“The major advantage of [federal Community Living Center] design is that it gives a more holistic approach to skilled nursing care,” said Division of Veteran Affairs Associate Director Kim Ripoli in an email. “The neighborhood concept creates a more home-like, as opposed to institutional, environment.”
Administrators want the emphasis on independent living and social interaction to make it more adaptable to veterans down the road. Robbins said that the design will also make it easier for veterans now to spend time socializing out of their rooms but still have staff nearby to monitor.
“You’ll be able to talk to each other,” he said. “For veterans, they would like to be independent.”
Of the home’s more than 190 current residents, 50 percent are World War II veterans, about 24 percent from the Korean War and about 26 percent are from the Vietnam War. Those demographics will soon start to shift, however. “We want to make sure we meet the needs of the veterans we’re serving today, and some of our demographic data says that we’ll be serving more Vietnam-era veterans soon or over the coming years,” Powell said. “But we want to build with an eye toward the future, when some of the veterans with unique injuries from the more recent wars may need nursing home services.”
The VA approved a request to increase the number of nursing beds from 157 in the existing building to 192 in the new facility. Another 16 beds will be available for transitional shelter for homeless veterans, bringing the total number of beds to 208. In the existing home, rooms accommodate two residents; in the new design, everybody will have their own room and bathroom.
United Veterans Council President Jim Robbins said his organization fully supports the plan and that his own chapter has donated $6,000 from fund drives to furnish a room at the new facility.
“It’ll be tremendous,” Robbins said. “The waiting list (for the home) is way down. … It’s going to be fantastic.”
Conversations about building a new facility started as far back as 2007 or 2008, said Powell, who joined the organization as director in 2011.
The current home – built in 1955 and added to several times – has seen some wear and tear. Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, the current home’s administrator, said early discussions questioned whether the current building could be renovated, but it was decided that it would be too expensive and the home’s layout would still be outdated.
So plans went ahead and in 2012, 77 percent of Rhode Island voters approved a bond measure authorizing the state to borrow up to $94 million for the project.
James Boylan, a 71-year-old veteran from Warwick, is a resident at the current Veterans Home who was happy to see how emphatically Rhode Islanders approved of the project. “I thought it was a surprisingly large, positive response,” said Boylan, who served in the Army between 1967 and 1969, then again in the Navy Reserve between 1975 and 1993.
If construction follows CLC design standards, the state will qualify for reimbursement of up to 65 percent of qualified construction costs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has approved the facility’s design concept and schematics, and based on current estimates, reimbursement could cover up to $55 million, maybe more, said Michael Jolin, spokesman for the state department of human services.
Howard Lamont, a 68-year-old, retired Air Force corporal who served in Libya and other North African postings between 1966 and 1970, has lived at the Veterans Home for about six years. Lamont lives alone now but used to have a roommate. He said it wasn’t all bad.
“My roommate had a TV and his son paid the cable bills,” Lamont said, laughing. “He said, ‘Whenever he’s asleep, you can use it.’”
However, Lamont said, the new set-up will be an improvement.
“I figure it’ll be better,” he said. “More privacy.”
Baccus said the single-room design will also help contain infectious diseases and protect high-risk patients, like those with dementia. In the new home, any room can potentially be a secure room, and there won’t be a need to move.
The new facility will be built on the same grounds as the current Veterans Home but a little closer to Metacom Avenue. Administrators plan to allow the existing nursing home to stay functional throughout construction.
“A lot of work’s ahead, but it is absolutely worthwhile to do what we can to honor our veterans,” Powell said. “We are just so excited about this opportunity.” •

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