The history of Minnesota's Veterans Homes begins shortly after the Civil War. Because of the devastation brought on by that conflict, there was a growing conviction that provisions should be made for the care of the nation's veterans. The Minnesota legislature authorized the establishment of the Minnesota Soldiers' Home in 1887, as a "reward to the brave and deserving," and a Board of Trustees was established to manage the facility. By 1888, construction at the site of the current Minneapolis Veterans Home had begun; and by 1911, five men's cottages and one women's cottage had been built, along with several support services buildings (infirmary, dining hall, etc.).
The mission of soldiers' homes, as they were contemplated in the last third of the nineteenth century, was to create beautiful, landscaped communities for veterans - havens of rest for veterans' later years. These homes were not primarily designed to be medical facilities; rather, they were seen as monuments to the contributions of veterans. In fact, it was not until World War I that medical care was provided in soldiers' homes, and even then it was of secondary consideration.
On November 11, 1934, construction of Building 9 on the Minneapolis campus is started. Completed in 1937, Building 9 was constructed almost entirely by hand over a span of nearly three years. The building is demolished in 2009 with a replacement 100 bed skilled care facility due to be completed in 2011. The time capsule from the original cornerstone in November 11,1934 opened July 7, 2009.
The view that soldiers' homes were rest homes persevered in Minnesota until the 1960s. In 1968, for example, the Minneapolis Soldiers' Home was licensed for 56 nursing care beds and 375 boarding care beds, the latter of which represented primarily custodial (non medical) care. By the late 1960s, however, the Soldiers' Home Board of Trustees, along with others, recognized a growing need for making the health care needs of veterans a primary concern of the Home. The Soldiers' Home had been operated, since its creation, in a military atmosphere: the head of the facility was appointed as Commandant, and services and discipline were meted out in a quasi- military fashion. While the Board of Trustees began to recognize the growing health care needs of the veteran population, and while there were increased efforts to provide medical and psychiatric care, the Home still had not made the conversion from rest haven to health care facility.
The 1970s were a time of change and growth for the Soldiers Home. In 1972, a new nursing care facility was constructed on the Minneapolis campus; another one was built in 1980.
In 1978, the old state hospital in Hastings was converted into a domiciliary residence for veterans. The Hastings State Hospital was opened in 1900 and closed on May 1, 1978. The Hastings Veterans Home opened on May 4, 1978.
As a result of the new construction in Minneapolis and the conversion of the Hastings facility, the Homes had 250 nursing care beds at Minneapolis, 250 domiciliary beds at Minneapolis and 200 domiciliary beds at Hastings. Along with this growth, the Board of Trustees was abolished, and the administration of the Soldiers' Home became a responsibility of the state Commissioner of Veterans Affairs in an effort to consolidate all matters pertaining to veterans in one department.
In 1988, the legislature reorganized and separated the Veterans Homes from the MN Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Homes Board of Directors was established, consisting of nine members appointed by the governor. The Board was charged with restructuring the homes along the lines of the medical model of operations and turning them into high quality health care facilities while also taking into consideration the special needs of the veteran population. To accomplish this dual focus, the Board's membership consists of representatives from the health care field and Veterans organizations. The Board has assured that the Homes are operated according to stated goals and standardized practices, policies and procedures, that residents' rights are recognized and respected, and that a high quality of life is maintained for the veterans who are residents of the Homes. The agency itself is managed by an Executive Director, who is responsible for ensuring that the Board's vision for the agency, mission, and goals, are properly operationalized. Each Veterans Home is managed by an administrator, who reports directly to the Executive Director. All of the facilities have medical directors, directors of nursing, and nursing, social services, financial and other staff appropriate to the needs and levels of care of their veteran residents.
In this decade, three more facilities were added. There are now five Veterans Homes operating in Minnesota, located in Minneapolis, Hastings, Silver Bay, Luverne and Fergus Falls.
The Silver Bay Veterans Home opened on October 10, 1991 with one resident. The facility for the home began as Campton Elementary School and was built in 1953 during the mining boom on the North Shore. The school began a transformation to a veterans home in 1989. Governor Perpich delivered the grand opening address. Other dignitaries attending included; U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz, U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar, U.S. Representative Tim Penny and a number of state legislators. Fred Janklow was the first Administrator for the Silver Bay Veterans Home.
The Veterans Home in Luverne opened in 1994 and the one in Fergus Falls in 1998.
The breakdown of the beds is as follows: Minneapolis, 346 skilled nursing care beds and 77 domiciliary beds; Hastings, 200 domiciliary beds; Silver Bay, 89 skilled nursing care beds; Luverne, 85 skilled nursing care beds, and Fergus Falls, 85 skilled nursing care beds.
From both an historical perspective and a current one, it is clear that the Minnesota Veterans Homes would not be in operation without the support of the veteran community in Minnesota. There are approximately 50 veterans organizations and their affiliates in Minnesota that play an important role in shaping the veteran community within the Veterans Homes, by noting the needs of their fellow veterans and enriching the general quality of life and environment at the Veterans Homes. These organizations serve in part as a bridge between the concepts of the Veterans Homes as medical facilities and the Veterans Homes as special places of recognition for the service the veteran residents have provided for their country.
The veteran community plays four essential roles relative to veteran residents of the Homes: those of promoters, advocates, watchdogs/protectors, and donors. First, the veteran community has always been very supportive of the Veterans Homes, and keeps the veteran population at large aware of the availability of services at the Homes. Many organizations allow the agency to participate in their events and conventions, giving the agency the opportunity to promote the Homes at such events. The organizations themselves also promote the agency and the Homes by spreading the word about them and providing positive reinforcement to the commitment of the agency in meeting veterans' needs.
The advocacy role of the veteran community is also important. Several organizations continuously propose legislative initiatives designed to promote the rights of veterans in Minnesota and at the national level, in order that the needs of their fellow veterans may be met. The veteran community recognizes the special needs of the residents of the Veterans Homes, and advocate on their behalf to assure that those needs are recognized and addressed in the political arena.
The Veterans community in Minnesota has always played a significant watchdog role on behalf of the residents of the Veterans Homes. From the days of the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Spanish War Veterans to the present, veterans organizations have closely monitored the Veterans Homes, ensuring that the residents of the Homes were receiving quality service and care. Veterans organizations today continue to maintain a close watch on the Homes, to assure that the residents' rights continue to be respected and that the care they receive is of the highest quality.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the veteran community has served in the very generous role of donor relative to the Veterans Homes, and there is no question but that, through the efforts of the community, the quality of life of the residents has been significantly improved. The veteran community has donated equipment to the Homes, including such things as televisions, furnishings and specially equipped transportation vans, which not only improve the quality of life of the Homes' residents, but allow the Homes to provide essential services that could not be otherwise provided without significant cost to the state. These same organizations have also contributed money to the Homes for the special needs of their fellow veterans. The veteran community donates these funds because they recognize that this population has special needs that may not be met through a purely medical model of delivery of services.
Several veterans organizations sponsor special events on behalf of the residents. They give parties for residents and provide meals, such as annual pheasant dinners. Veterans groups sponsor activities and recreational events for the residents, such as bingo and fishing trips. Finally, the veteran community donates time: they volunteer their time for special events and for daily activities. Veterans groups, affiliate organizations, and families literally devote thousands of hours per month at the Veterans Homes, providing invaluable service and enriching the lives of their comrades and friends.
The veteran community of Minnesota plays an integral part in the delivery of care to the Veterans Homes residents. There is a strong cultural tradition in this community of remembering and recognizing the efforts and sacrifices of all veterans. By carrying on these traditions, the veteran community continues to meet the needs and safeguard the rights of the veterans residing in the Minnesota Veterans Homes, as well as enriching their lives.
On November 19, 2007, the Veterans Home Board was eliminated and the duties and responsibilities were transferred to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.
Building 9 at the Minneapolis Veterans Home is scheduled for replacement. On July 7th, the original cornerstone from November 11, 1934 is opened. Many artifacts are found inside the cornerstone. The new Building 9 consisting of a 100 bed skilled nursing care facility is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2011. In an effort to preserve some of the historical elements from building 9, a number of original features and decor will be incorporated and displayed in the new building, including the cornerstone of building 9.
On July 29th, a ground breaking is held for a new 33,000 square foot addition at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home. The project is scheduled to be completed in January 2011. The focus of the expansion is the special care unit featuring two state-of-the-art “community” or “village” concepts. The design for each of these areas will be reminiscent of the look and feel of home, complete with a porch and window. The new special care unit will also incorporate street lamps, park benches, a nursing station designed like a depot and enclosed outdoor wandering spaces.
The Adult Day Center and Building 19 were opened and dedicated.
Building 19 is a state-of-the-art skilled nursing care facility that incorporates the latest technology and modern amenities to enhance care. This building has 100 private rooms designed around “neighborhoods” to offer care in a home-style atmosphere. This facility includes a greenhouse, barber and beauty shops, common areas with natural light and greenery and a town square.
The Adult Day Center is the second in the country to offer day services in a Veteran-specific model of care operated by a state Veterans Affairs Department. This day program allows Participants maintain their highest level of independence and physical and mental well-being while remaining at home. The Adult Day concept also provides care and respite for caregivers, helping ease the strain of caring for a loved one or family member.