A $41.2 million nursing care facility for veterans was opened Tuesday before a crowd that included Gov. Tom Corbett and other elected and military officials.
The 14,000-square-foot Community Living Center at the Southeastern Veterans Center features a floor of 30 beds dedicated specifically to dementia-care residents and 90 other skilled-care beds spread out on the three other floors.
“This facility will serve as a lasting tribute to our veterans,” said Paul Cain, the state director of Veterans’ Homes in the Office of Veterans Affairs.
Corbett was the keynote speaker before the ribbon-cutting. In the crowd of several hundred filling a tent in the parking lot were veterans, Veterans Center workers, active-duty military, motorcyclists, families, news media and elected officials including Congressman Jim Gerlach, state senators Andy Dinniman and John Rafferty, and state representatives Warren Kampf and Tim Hennessy.
The $41.2 million facility was constructed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Cain said, which elicited an audible groan from someone in the crowd.
In addition to Corbett, both Gary Devansky, the director of the Coatesville Veterans Administration Medical Center, and the state adjutant general, Major General Wesley E. Craig, spoke to the crowd.
Craig described the U.S. Soldier’s Creed and how it applied to the former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines living at the Southeastern Center.
“We all follow the basic tenets of what’s found in the U.S. Army Soldier’s Creed,” Craig said.
The creed specifies that American servicemen and women “place the mission first,” “never accept defeat,” never leave behind a comrade and never quit.
“Veterans need to be a priority,” Craig said. “The state of Pennsylvania is proud of its veterans.”
Corbett emphasized his time in the military in his address. He spent time in the Pennsylvania National Guard from 1971 to 1984, rising to a captain’s commission.
“It is a matter of honor to us in the military that we do not abandon our wounded, that was part of our creed,” Corbett said. “Some of our men and women are wounded on the field of battle while others carry injuries home. As we know today, some of those injuries don’t surface for a while. Some of our veterans are stricken later in life. The people who wore our nation’s uniform and protected our freedom must not and should not be forgotten at any stage in their life.”
The governor said all veterans should be honored and taken care of.
“That, frankly, is what this is about today,” Corbett said.
Craig called Corbett the “best advocate for veterans,” even though the latest budget cycle saw the governor signing off on a cut for veterans homes.
Corbett’s proposed budget for 2013 carried a 6.7 percent cut, totalling roughly 6.2 million worth of cuts from the state’s budget. Eventually, Corbett signed off on a final budget with an 8.2 percent cut, totaling approximately $7.6 million.
When asked about the cuts at the opening of the new facility, Corbett said funding is a product of the economic climate.
“The state budget is a reflection of the economy,” Corbett said. “The economy is down and we’re trying to grow the economy. As we grow the economy, we can try to return that funding.”
Corbett praised the new building, saying that he would actually recommend the facility to his father-in-law.
“This would be a good place for him to be,” Corbett said.
The attention paid to veterans now is something that Corbett sees as positive and resulting in projects like the Community Living Center.
“If there is a silver lining to 9/11, it is the recognition this country now gives to the men and women that serve in its service,” Corbett said. “What this center here is about is recognition that they all served not knowing who they were serving other than they were serving their country.”
Following a final benediction, Corbett, Craig, Henry Paiste, a Navy veteran who is the president of the resident council, and Sheri Phillips, the state’s secretary of the general services department, cut a ribbon spanning two columns at the front of the building. All four placed a hand on a pair of giant scissors that sliced through a ribbon in the design of an American flag.
Everyone in attendance seemed in awe of the sleek, brick facade building with steel-set glass windows and some sections featuring almond-colored vinyl siding. Inside, the warm and casual design features stone and wood prominently in the common areas.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a state building that doesn’t look like a state building,” Dinniman said. “It’s very impressive. With the rock (inside), it’s very Chester and Montgomery County.”
“It’s exciting that they made the investment here in Chester County,” Ryan Costello, a Chester County commisioner, said of the federally and state funded building. “It’s a source of pride for the community.”
The Community Living Center’s construction began in 2010 after the modular housing units were closed because of their advanced age, according to Joanne Nissley in an interview with The Mercury in March.
The focus of the new facility is to provide a more “home-like setting,” something all officials at the event emphasized. The goal was to “de-institutionalize long-term care” and provide veterans with their own private bedroom, full bathroom and capabilities for personal electronics in “home” settings. Each floor has two homes of 15 residents, except the ground floor which features the dementia unit and a “town center” with a chapel, clinic, canteen, library and a multipurpose room, according to a press release from the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Opening or improving more veterans homes like the Community Living Center is something that Corbett said was worth investigating.
“We have six homes throughout the state, centers like this,” he said. “I think it is something we need to look at in the future, to grow not only in Pennsylvania but in other states.”
Corbett, during his speech, summarized the construction of the new center for Pennsylvania veterans best.
“(The center) is neither a gift nor charity,” he said. “It is something I believe they earned.”