VA housing project breaks ground
DANVILLE – On the rolling fairways of the former Back Nine golf course, the old greens are making way for "green" houses and making history in the nation's Veteran Affairs system at the same time.
More than 100 people gathered Tuesday at the Danville campus of the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System to celebrate the start of construction on a $4 million initiative to build two Green Project homes, which will house up to 10 veterans each and feature an innovative approach to long-term skilled nursing care.
The homes, which are being built on a portion of the VA-owned former Back Nine golf course, are the first of their kind in Illinois and in the VA's nationwide system, according to Michael Hamilton, director of the VA's Danville campus, 1900 E. Main St., Danville.
"And that is exciting," Hamilton said Tuesday during the ground-breaking ceremony at the build site of the two homes, which are scheduled to open next year.
Hamilton joined veterans, the project contractor, local and state officials and others at Tuesday's event in a ceremonial ground-breaking, where each put on a hard hat, picked up a shovelful of dirt and turned it over on the construction site, with bulldozers in the background ready to do the heavy clearing.
The Green House concept, according to VA officials, offers the personal care and clinical services of high-quality nursing homes but emphasizes quality of life for veterans, providing a "real home" setting.
The Green House approach has 42 projects either functioning or under construction in 27 states, and a team of VA officials had been working for years to bring the concept to Danville and the VA system. The Green House initiative as a whole has received support through a special grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Hamilton said Tuesday that local long-term plans call for more Green House homes on the VA campus, for 10 altogether. He said the VA staff take pride in serving veterans, because the project is about them.
"If not for them, we would not have the opportunity to be here doing this with peace of mind," he said.
The houses will be self-contained, and each will offer up to 10 veterans their own private living quarters and bathrooms, a community kitchen, dining area and living area, as well as living assistance and skilled care, along with the freedom from the daily living schedules and routines of more traditional nursing home environments. Veterans can eat, sleep and pursue activities when they want, VA officials said, and even take part in cooking, cleaning and laundry, if they choose.
The primary care in the homes is provided by a certified nursing assistant, called a Shahbaz, who does the daily cooking, cleaning, laundry, household scheduling and is supported by a team that provides clinical care.
Hamilton said the VA has been working toward this goal for a long time and believes this is the future of skilled nursing care that will enrich the lives of veterans.
The VA hired Seth Malley, president of Blue Yonder Inc., as contractor for the project. Malley, a disabled veteran, spoke during the ceremony, thanking officials for the opportunity to be involved in this project for veterans. Malley also mentioned that he has hired – and intends to hire more – local contractors to do the work.