Closed Hospital does not meet VA Standards to be a Veterans Home

Caring for our veterans is one of the most sacred duties one can perform on a daily basis and it is of special significance for all Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA) employees. We work hand in glove with the federal government to care for elderly and disabled veterans regarding all benefits or services but especially in our State Veterans Homes (SVH).

Alabama currently has four SVHs for aged and infirm veterans. Sen. Bill Holtzclaw requested that the ADVA provide our assessment of the suitability of using the vacant Hartselle Medical Center in light of a constituent’s interest.

The assessment indicated that the hospital is not suitable as a state veterans home. “The problem with many legacy or older (senior) living facilities is they’re very institutional, they look, feel and function like hospitals or infirmaries,” W. Clyde Marsh, ADVA Commissioner, said.

The Hartselle hospital and new patient wing were built in 1953 and operated as a medical facility until 2012. In 2012, that hospital was deemed no longer useful or beneficial in meeting the purpose for which it was built. The hospital closed in January 2012 and has remained shuttered.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) committed to a cultural transformation of resident-centered homes for skilled care in 2005. This transformation changed the homes to the small house design, with 10–14 resident rooms per house for all future SVH construction projects. New homes must have a front door entrance to each house including a foyer, all private rooms and bathrooms, and include a living room, dining room and a kitchen which duplicates the home environment for each resident veteran. Retrofitting and repurposing of old existing structures must follow the same guidelines and
incorporate the same design specifications.

The USDVA has attempted to repurpose and convert old existing facilities in the past. Those attempts often required a complete gutting and rebuild or a tear down and new construction on site.

“This new design provides a sense of community and the veteran’s own home rather an institutional feel,” Commissioner Marsh said. “It creates a home away from home environment for the veterans which facilitates better access to daily living care, interaction with small house staff which improves the veteran’s experience and reinforces the standards of care.”

The ADVA conducted a feasibility study in 2007. Kim Justice, Executive Director of the State Veterans Home program, said, “Now at the 10-year mark, we are near completing the recommendations of that study which entailed the opening of a new 254-bed home in the Birmingham area and upgrading/improving our current state veterans homes. We are seeking to conduct a new feasibility study that will project needs and guide our path of decision-making for the next 10–15 years.

The results of this new study will determine if and where a new veterans home will be built. If a new home is built, construction falls under the USDVA guidelines.

“The old hospital is not useful for the ADVA for consideration as a State Veterans Homes to achieve a purpose for which it was not designed or constructed. The VA has specific designs, and strict requirements in order to meet the operational requirements of a SVH and provide the necessary standards of skilled care.” Commissioner Marsh said. “We appreciate the owners thinking about our agency and veterans; however, this facility is not suitable to be a state veterans home.”