This past July on Big Rock Mountain, under a clear sky, a line of dignitaries wearing business suits and hardhats attacked the ground with spades. The site was the old nine-hole golf course across from the army’s historic Fort Logan H. Roots. But the occasion was not a course redesign. They broke ground for a new nursing home for veterans, to be called The Central Arkansas Veterans Home.
The construction is scheduled to be finished in fall 2016. The Deputy Director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs Lane Bailey said the facility is needed to replace the old Little Rock Veterans’ Home, which had a host of financial and safety problems and closed in 2012.
“[The Little Rock Veterans Home] was not worth the expense it was going to take to bring it into compliance,” Bailey said.
So, in 2013, the Arkansas legislature approved $7.5 million to go toward building a new, state-of-the-art facility. An ADVA task force evaluated a number of potential locations. In March 2014, they recommended the 31-acre golf course across from Fort Roots by a 9-3 vote, over alternative finalists in Searcy and Jacksonville. The land was already owned by the federal government, and offered a central location in the state with easy access to Little Rock’s labor market and other veterans’ health facilities, not to mention security from adjacent Fort Roots.
“This was a difficult selection process, as many communities submitted worthy sites for the new Veterans’ home,” then-Gov. Mike Beebe said by press release of the decision. In March 2015, the land was transferred to the state of Arkansas. And, an expected grant of $15.6 million from the federal VA came through in August, making for more than $22 million to build the home.
“It [will be] a long-term care facility,” Bailey said. “That term carries with it a lot more regulatory requirements than an assisted living center. It’s a skilled nursing facility.”
Despite this, the facility will be designed to have a less institutional, more human feel.
“The generic term is small-house approach,” Bailey said. “We’ll build eight cottages and a central community building. Each cottage is equipped to hold 12 residents, so that will give us a total occupancy of 96.”
Perkins Eastman Architects of Chicago will serve as the primary designer of the project, and Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock is the overall project leader and architect of record.
A PSW spokesperson said each cottage will be 9,500 square feet, and each of the 12 bedrooms will have its own private bathroom. Cottages will also each have a kitchen. The 12,000-squre-foot community building will house administrative offices, a meeting room, exercise area, physical therapy facilities and more. And, while development is still in the early stages, the firm is projecting that the cost to build the facility will be $19.3 million.
Bailey added that the hands-on nursing staff and top administrators will number between 100 and 110.
In-Home vs. Institutional Care
The facility is coming at a time when more resources are being devoted to in-home, rather than institutional, care of the aging and invalid. This is partly a cost-driven phenomenon.
According to a 2015 study from Genworth Financial, the cost of in-home health care assistance has risen only 1 percent per year over the past five years in Arkansas. The cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home, on the other hand, has risen twice as fast in the same time period. This is in line with national trends, but the story is different for the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway area, where in-home care and nursing home care have risen at the same rate (3 percent) over the past five years.
In addition, sometimes in-home care is simply not a feasible option. Some patients need what Republican congressman French Hill described as “constant and specialized care” in explaining the need for the new facility in a press release.
Bailey said that the question of in-home versus nursing home care is one that veterans and their families can discuss with the federal VA, and the state VA office is ready to assist them in doing that.
“But, really, it’s going to be up to the family in the end,” he said, noting that veterans and their families who are interested in the new facility should go ahead and start sending information.
“The bigger pool of applicants we have, the faster we can get into full operation. We already have a file of potential applicants and we have a questionnaire asking them about their veteran status, their disability percentage, that sort of thing.”
He said that they plan to eventually have an online application process at the ADVA website, but aren’t quite there yet.
“Right now that site is not as interactive as we’d like for it to be,” Bailey explained.“But there’s a phone number on [the site]. And everybody who would answer that call is equipped with a questionnaire to fill out.”
Those who become residents are likely to find a facility vastly improved over the old Little Rock Veterans home. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton captured why that is so important.
“Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line in defense of our freedom,” he said in a press release about the new facility. “They deserve the very best care, no matter their stage in life.”
Renderings provided by Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects