AUGUSTA — Veterans and legislators broke ground Thursday on the future site of Maine Veterans’ Homes’ Augusta campus, celebrating a residential care facility that they said will feel more like home and less like an institution.

“It’s looks like it’ll be a great home,” said Commander Roger Emmons, of VFW District 8, which encompasses five Kennebec County Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, including Augusta’s. “It’s something we need. Something that’s 50 or 60 years old kind of wears out.”

The new $91 million facility will replace the nursing home facility on Cony Road and will be the first small-home facility in Maine. It’s expected to open in 2021.

“This is a state-of-the-art facility that’s going to bring our veterans into a home that makes them feel like they’re in a home with concentrated care because of the small group homes,” said Steven J. SanPedro, state commander of the Maine VFW. He serves on the Maine Veterans’ Homes board of trustees.

Deb Fournier, chief operations officer for Maine Veterans’ Homes, told the Kennebec Journal in January that before designing the complex, officials interviewed residents and families about what they would want in a new facility — private rooms with private baths, along with access to the outdoors and space to be with families.  

Homelike care facilities yielded better results in studies than institutional settings did, she said

“We need more (facilities) because we have a lot more veterans,” Emmons said. “I think this will fill up.”

The 44-acre campus will have 138 private rooms. The Cony Road campus has 150 beds.

“It’s the very least that we can provide, a home for all of our veterans,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, who is a veteran. “It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about homelessness or taking care of our seniors. Having that warm home bed right after you come back from service or late in life, it’s so important.”

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said that per capita, the state of Maine has the second-largest number of veterans. Alaska has the most. He thought that it was a “testament to the dedication of the people in Maine to those who’ve served” that a residential care facility of this kind for veterans would be in Maine first.

“Maine will become a model for veterans homes around the nation,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, whose father spent a short time at the Maine Veterans Home in Caribou. The care was wonderful, she said, but not homelike.

Gov. Janet Mills, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, also participated in the ceremony.

The Cony Road facility employs 225 people, and officials anticipate adding another dozen or so positions when the new site opens.

 

Abigail Austin — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ

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