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County discusses possibility of nursing care for local veterans

During the Oct. 17 county board meeting, County Commissioner Ed Smith inquired about skilled nursing for veterans at the Heritage campus.

Heritage Administrator Kurt Hansen said Heritage could contract with the Veterans Administration to provide 24-hour-a-day care.

"We used to have one. In fact, we did for several years and then it got to a point where we were down to one veteran. There's components to it that you have to comply with. We found the paper compliance piece and the actual physical facility survey was such that was as consuming as normal Department of Health process," Hansen said, adding that when that one veteran passed away, Heritage let the VA contract lapse. "But we think it's worth having a conversation again about because there are vets with needs."

"I think there are a number of veterans that would like to get back home," Smith said. "A lot of them are Vietnam vets and they're getting to that age where traveling two hours takes its toll."

Smith asked if veterans should contact Hansen to express their interest.

There is demand, Hansen said, but the construction project needs to be completed before Heritage can start ramping up programming.

"I think it's vitally important we remember those people," Smith said.

Later in the meeting, Hubbard County Veterans Services Officer Jerry Bjerke said that getting a veterans nursing home accredited "is quite an undertaking."

"Everybody knows this is what we want to do. It's just when we're going to do it and how we're going to implement it," Bjerke said.

County Commissioner Cal Johannsen, who sits on the Heritage Living Center Campus Board, said they realize "because it's federal, it's more complicated and more paperwork."

"Is the real issue money here?" asked County Commissioner Dan Stacey.

Federal compensation for a veteran may be less than for others, Johannsen said, "but that's not an issue. We should take care of our vets."

"They've earned that right to be here," agreed Bjerke. "We owe it to their spouses or significant others. It's not only the vet getting a comfortable location; it's the ability of family members getting to see that vet. Right now they're driving 70 miles or more."

"That's another stressor for them: not being home," Smith said.

Renovation update

Hansen reported that family members and staff helped move residents into a new wing of the Heritage Living Center last week.

Residents were placed on the second floor, with the first floor designated as a transitional care unit.

"Very exciting. We've got a healthy waiting list. People are waiting for long-term beds. These are people who aren't planning on coming in for a short-stay rehab and going home, rather they're wanting their loved one or they themselves to be in the long-term section," Hansen said.

The last section of the old building will be torn down next week, he reported.

Phase 3 also includes a kitchen renovation. Electricians are currently working on wiring for the walk-in coolers.

"It's kind of a constant state of flux. It's a little excitement, a little frustration all mixed into one, but at the same time we are trying to be patient and see the benefits of the new building. The feedback's been extremely positive and helpful," Hansen said.

Cottages bond refinanced

The Hubbard County Board authorized the refinancing of $1,415,000 in outstanding general obligation housing development revenue bonds for Heritage Cottages, the county's memory care and enhanced assisted living facility.

The bonds will be issued by the Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

"We've done this with the Heritage Manor bonds a couple times, refunding or refinancing. In each case, we do it because we have an opportunity to save interest," explained Hansen, "and in this instance, it's still a bit over $1 million owed on the Cottages. These bonds were issued in 2008, but there's an opportunity to save upwards of $250,000 over the remaining life of these bonds. So we think this is a good decision to move it forward to refund the Cottage bonds."

The original principal amount was $1,825,000. The 2008 bonds were used to finance construction of the Cottages.

Johannsen reminded the board they agreed to refinance the bonds a year ago, but the motion was delayed due to 2016 elections and a lack of available funding.