Steady as she grows

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Wisconsin's newest VA community features four distinct neighborhoods.
Wisconsin's newest VA community features four distinct neighborhoods.

The new Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls is in step with the trending resident-communities concept. Commandant Mark Wilson knows it's an attention grabber.

“A lot of people ‘oohed' and ‘ahhed',” Wilson said of his speech at a veterans home convention. “Many are saddled with 60- and 70-year-old buildings … but they're doing some internal remodeling to improve the sense of a homelike environment. I would say 90 percent of veterans' homes are looking at this model as one that is to be aspired to.”

The new operation became Wisconsin's third VA home in February 2013. It reached its 72-bed capacity five months later, after a process Wilson didn't initially support.

The state allowed the facility to open with only four residents. After the trial period and Wisconsin approval, the federal VA increased the number to 20.

“Looking back, those restrictions were good,” said Wilson, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran and former medical center CEO. After receiving VA approval, Wilson's team limited admissions to one per day or one every other day. 

“My initial thought would have been bring 'em on — dozens at a time until we fill this place up. Looking back on it, I think it's good to be patient, especially in a brand new building with a new environment of care, a newly hired staff. It's a good idea to be cautious that you're providing the care that's appropriate.”

Each of the four neighborhoods in the facility includes a laundry, whirlpool spa, and covered and fenced outdoor patios. The 350-square-foot-rooms' furnishings include a 32-inch flat screen TV, bathroom and shower.

The center of the community features a barbershop, coffee bar, chapel and community room. A 400-square-foot library touches upon the impact that the outside community has on the home. More than 1,000 donated books and 100 DVDs fill the racks.

Wilson estimates that outside military and civilian groups have donated more than $40,000 in money and goods to the facility since its opening, and each branch of the military pays regular visits with retirees and personnel on active duty.

Frisbie Architects Inc., of River Falls, WI, presented the concepts that shape the new VA home, located about 100 miles east of Minneapolis.

Plans centered the building on the 40-acre, sloped site for a unique perspective.

“360 degrees on the first level there are no obstructed views,” said principal architect Mathew Frisbie. “It kind of feels like you're in the North Woods. You see no mechanical ... all that back-of-house we were able to put underneath. There's a series of halls with the commercial kitchen and services below. Elevators and stairs come up into these neighborhoods, and it keeps trips short for the staff.”

Heavy timber and limestone from the area are incorporated and meet Wisconsin's LEED silver sustainability guidelines.

Custom vinyl wall coverings of photographic images from campaigns that included Wisconsin military men decorate the facility. 

Lessons Learned

A controlled rollout of a facility can lead to improved operations and care.

Organizations are eager to support and help retired veterans.

Visits from retired veterans and active servicemen can raise the morale of residents.

 



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