AUGUSTA — Maine Veterans’ Homes plans to build a new, $76.8 million, 138-bed nursing home for veterans across Old Belgrade Road from MaineGeneral Medical Center.
The proposed multi-building facility would replace the nonprofit corporation’s existing nursing facility on Cony Road in Augusta with what officials say would be a state-of-the-art “small house” model of residential nursing care.
In that model, residents would live in individual units clustered together in several residential-style buildings with 10 to 12 similar units, rather than in a more traditional institutional-style building. All units in the complex, which would sit on 44 acres off Henrys Way, would be private residences with private bathrooms, rather than the mostly semi-private rooms at Maine Veterans’ Homes’ 150-bed nursing facility at 310 Cony Road.
“What we’re really doing is building the next generation of Maine Veterans’ Homes, here in Augusta,” said Kelley Kash, chief executive officer of Maine Veterans’ Homes. “We want to replace the traditional nursing home, which was built on a hospital model. This will look very much residential, as opposed to institutional. This is the state of the art.”
He said the model of care is new to Maine.
Kash said studies have shown clinical outcomes for residents and patients are better in small house style facilities, where people may feel more at home than in the traditional style of building.
The proposed new facility’s several buildings, together totaling 215,000 square feet, would be built on 12 acres of 44 acres Maine Veterans’ Homes purchased on Henrys Way. The property was the former site of a chicken barn and three homes across the road from the regional MaineGeneral Medical Center hospital. The MaineGeneral site also includes the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care and Kennebec Pharmacy and Home Care pharmacy which opened last year.
“With MaineGeneral and this new state-of-the-art facility, it will sort of make that area over there a hub of the most current medical care in this area,” said Devin Robinson, marketing director for Maine Veterans’ Homes.
When the MaineGeneral hospital was built in 2013, city officials changed the zoning in the surrounding area to create a new medical district, anticipating health care-related businesses and other entities would ideally be located near the hospital.
“This kind of facility and doctors’ offices and all the related medical amenities that’d go with that is exactly what was envisioned” when the city created the medical zoning district, said Augusta Mayor David Rollins. “I think, inevitably over time, more and more things like that will go out there. Having associated services close to the main facility, the hospital, like that, only makes sense.”
The new facility would have 138 beds, 12 fewer than the current Cony Road facility, which was opened in 1983.
Kash said reducing the number of units is proposed based upon the Augusta facility’s current occupancy and projections of the veteran population. He said the Augusta facility is not currently filled to capacity, although demand remains high overall. The corporation’s facilities operate at 94 to 95 percent of their capacity, he said.
Robinson said when the 150-bed home was built, it was the only one in the state. Now Maine Veterans’ Homes has six facilities in Maine.
Rollins said he believes reducing the number of beds in the new facility, compared to the current facility, may be a mistake. He said when his own father, who died last year, was looking for a nursing home, he wasn’t able to be placed at the Cony Road Maine Veterans’ Home, and another residential option at VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus was also full.
“I think it’s a good thing, but (I) think it is possibly short-sighted,” Rollins said of the new facility with fewer beds. “I think it won’t be long before the demand for those beds is exceeded. Demand is only going to increase.”
Although it is not part of the current proposal, Kash said eventually Maine Veterans’ Homes has space on the same property to expand to offer new programming, including outpatient treatment, physical therapy and adult day healthcare services to veterans.
The project is expected to cost about $76.8 million, with $50 million of that projected to come from a federal Veterans Administration grant and $26.8 million coming from Maine Veterans’ Homes.
Kash said Maine Veterans’ Homes has applied for a Veterans Administration construction grant. Application materials say the funding request has been granted preliminary approval.
Construction, according to application materials filed with the city, would begin in 2018 and the complex would open in 2020.
The project was scheduled to go before the Augusta Planning Board Tuesday night for a major development review, but that meeting has been canceled due to the expected storm. The application will instead be considered at the Planning Board’s April 11 board meeting.
Kash said the organization’s current Augusta facility is reaching its life expectancy. Residents of that facility will be moved to the new one when it’s done, likely over two or three days.
Robinson said Maine Veterans’ Homes does not have plans to keep using the current facility once the new one opens. The fate of the current building has not yet been determined.
Maine Veterans’ Homes employs about 225 people in Augusta, where it has a headquarters building and nursing home facility, and that number isn’t expected to change when the new facility is built.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647