Posted: Oct. 18, 2018 9:55 pm Updated: Oct. 19, 2018 3:08 pm
QUINCY — The conceptual planning for renovation and new construction at the Illinois Veterans Home was on display Thursday night in an open house at Lippincott Hall.
But while the concept laid out a central corridor of green spaces through the campus that highlights the location’s topography, it did not provide answers to questions about the number of skilled-care beds the home will be able to offer veterans once work is completed.
Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Stephen Curda said several times that he would not provide numbers of types of beds that would be available in the new facility but the home still would meet the needs of every veteran there.
“The question is, ‘How do we serve our future veterans?’,” Curda said. “It really does depend on the budget, it depends on the future and it depends on the veterans themselves.”
He said the number of veterans needing care was decreasing and the types of care needed was changing.
When asked by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees employed at the home what that would mean for veterans now at the home when work is completed, Curda assured them every veteran at the home would continue to receive care.
And while he said saving the state money is a concern, it isn’t the primary worry.
“We want to make sure we are providing the right support for our veterans,” the retired brigadier general said.
AFSCME employees said they were worried a reduction in the number of skilled-care beds would result in a reduction in the amount of federal funding the home receives and a reduction in the services offered — and with that reduction a loss of jobs at the home.
Curda said that he believes the new facility will offer a net increase in the number of beds at the home, though he refused to provide details. In addition, several of the types of new care the department wants to offer would not come with guaranteed funding from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, though he also would not identify where funding would come from, saying some could come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and some through grants.
“Let us worry about the funding,” he said.
When a legislative aide stepped into the conversation to speak with union members, Curda turned to IDVA public information officer Dave MacDonna and said, “They’re trying to lock me down, and thank God I don’t have the answers.”
Fears of cutbacks
For Nettie Smith, a 25-year employee of the Veterans Home and president of AFSCME Local 1787, the possibility of the number of skilled-care beds being reduced at the home is unsettling.
“I am concerned,” she said. “I’m concerned about our veterans. I’m concerned about the quality of care we are going to be able to give our veterans.”
Smith said she agreed with the sentiment Gov. Bruce Rauner had shared after spending time at the home that the staff and residents are “a family.”
Reached by phone, Mike Hoffman, a senior adviser to Rauner who has been spearheading the efforts to rid the Illinois Veterans Home of Legionella bacteria, said it’s too early to say skilled-care beds will be reduced.
“When I look at the projected numbers, I am confident that we will not be reducing the skilled beds from where they are now,” he said.
He also said the state of Illinois picks up “the lion’s share” of expenses at the home, not the federal government.
“The state pays more in the current model,” Hoffman said.
Glenn Meyers, commandant of the local Marine Corps League chapter, showed a document he said came from an Illinois DVA official which calls for a reduction in the number of skilled-care beds at the home from 230 to 170 and the addition of types of care that have no funding model yet identified.
Meyers and other veterans said that while they welcome homeless/transitional care and mental health retreat facilities, they want to be sure the skilled-care beds are not cut.
“I look at this as my home someday, and if I’m looking at this (document), I’m thinking I won’t have a home,” Meyers said.
He said he wants to make sure that care is available to any veteran who needs it for as long as is needed.
“The main thing is keep the home open and keep it full,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, Curda said that at no point would veterans be forced out of the home.
“They will not be kicked out, I’ll put it that way,” he said. “But taking care of the future is the key.”
Hoffman said there are no plans to move homes from the Quincy facility elsewhere in the state.
“I don’t see that capacity ever going down,” he said.
Hoffman said this is the third phase in developing the master plan for the home. The fourth step is the creation of a draft of the plan, and the fifth step is the publishing of the plan for public review. Hoffman said he anticipates the plan to be published in mid-December.
He said the plan is being developed with input from a survey hosted by design firm HOK, as well as from various town hall-style meetings that were held. However, Hoffman said survey results and minutes from the town hall meetings would not be available for public review.
“We don’t want to publish results from the survey by itself,” he said, noting it was just one facet in the development of the plan.
That contradicted a statement from MacDonna earlier in the afternoon during a tour of the former Sycamore Healthcare Center that was bought to serve as a temporary housing site for veterans while work is being done at the main campus. There, MacDonna said he believed the results would be available for public review.
The Herald-Whig on Thursday evening sent Freedom of Information requests to IDVA and the state’s Department of Central Management Services asking for survey results, raw data from the survey and any minutes that were kept from the town hall meetings.
Hoffman said ideas from the survey and meetings that are used in the master plan will be highlighted for readers to point out their origin. He said design work already has begun on the main building for the campus as part of a “bridging document” to connect the master plan with architectural designs.