MVAA director visits Marquette to discuss future of veterans homes

MARQUETTE — As the state of Michigan prepares to next year begin building smaller long-term care facilities for veterans throughout the state, pending the approval of federal grant funding, state officials said firm plans for the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette are still several years out.

Following overwhelming support from the state Legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder in January signed a package of bills establishing the Michigan Veterans’ Facility Authority, which officials said will eventually oversee the state’s long-term care system for veterans.

The state has also begun the planning process to eventually replace its two existing homes — the Jacobetti in Marquette and the downstate Grand Rapids Home for Veterans — with smaller “community living center-based” homes, while also building similar facilities throughout Michigan to serve new areas.

The first two planned to be built — a replacement for the Grand Rapids facility and a new one near Detroit — are expected to cost around $108 million, roughly 39 percent of which was authorized as a general fund allocation by the state Legislature. The nearly $66 million remainder is being sought through a federal grant.

“We will find out in either late December or early January if we are selected for the (fiscal year) ’18 grant program,” James Redford, Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency director, said Tuesday during an interview in Marquette. “If we are, we will have shovels in the ground in June of 2018.”

However, potential replacement of the Jacobetti home in Marquette is at least five to 10 years away, Redford said.

“Right now we have about 628,000 veterans in Michigan, according to the latest Census data; 26,000 are in the Upper Peninsula, but … close to 240,000 are in the Detroit metropolitan area, and we don’t have a facility there, so that’s one of the reasons that’s one of the first build areas,” Redford explained. “But we’re absolutely committed to Marquette; we’re committed to Jacobetti. Our flag is firmly planted here and we will be providing care for veterans here for as long as … we have a state.”

The proposed facility in Marquette could have 25 to 30 fewer beds than the 184 the Jacobetti is currently licensed for. But Redford said projections spanning the next few decades call for fewer veterans statewide, with the U.P.’s veteran population believed to drop by roughly 40 percent in that time period.

Considering the drop in the number of beds at the Marquette facility, the long-term impact to employees at the Jacobetti is uncertain. However, Redford said increasing the home’s staffing numbers may actually be needed in the near future if the Jacobetti receives certification through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, commonly called CMS.

“One of the things that we’re hoping to be able to demonstrate through Jacobetti becoming CMS compliant and through the new homes being CMS compliant is that even though we’re building and spending resources, … it actually becomes more economically sustainable and less dependent on state (general fund),” Redford said.

Redford said the ideal size of the new facilities could have 100 to 150 beds and be located closer to where veterans live. Each facility would be made up of smaller homes, within close proximity to each other, housing eight to 10 residents, who would each have their own bedrooms and bathrooms, along with shared spaces like kitchens and living rooms.

New facilities are also being considered in the Flint, Saginaw and Bay City area; in the Jackson and Battle Creek area; and in the northern Lower Peninsula.

No money has been set aside for the other homes, but the recently created facility authority has the ability to issue up to $150 million in bonds, as well as solicit and receive large donations that could be used for capital improvements and lessen the impact on the state’s general fund.

Redford said the facility authority might also to look at ways to partner with other organizations and entities to improve and expand care services for veterans.

“There’s a whole continuum of care that’s available or is quickly becoming available, including things like home health aides, including things like adult day care that we’re taking very serious looks at to try to determine whether that’s something we should be providing,” he said.

Redford said with the Jacobetti home replacement project still several years out, more details will be coming.

“Obviously, we’re committed to Marquette,” he said. “We’re also committed to our employees, and we’re making every measure to make sure that everything is appropriately planned out so that there aren’t surprises.”

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.