The next state-operated, federally funded nursing home for veterans is likely to land in Sumter. Thanks to Representative Murrell Smith.
“There are a lot of retirees in Sumter, and they’re aging. They’re going to need these resources in these later years of life,” state Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said. “It’s a perfect opportunity.”
Smith is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and is on the Joint Bond Review Committee; he claims it’s a win-win for both Sumter and the state.
“It’s a way to show appreciation for our members of the military who served, who were stationed here at Shaw [Air Force Base] and to incentivize them to retire here,” he said.
Members of the state General Assembly’s Joint Bond Review Committee agreed to a new project last month for what would be the sixth such facility in South Carolina. The homes are funded based on a cost-sharing formula between the Veterans Administration and state Department of Mental Health, with the VA providing 65%.
There are already three state veterans’ nursing homes in South Carolina: The E. Roy Stone Veterans Pavilion in Columbia, the Richard Michael Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson and the Veterans’ Victory House in Walterboro. Those are at capacity with a total of 530 veterans.
According to The Post and Courier, more than 1,000 veterans throughout the state want to live at a state nursing home, which are touted as high quality and low cost.
Three new homes received federal approval in April 2018, starting the design phase in Florence, Gaffney and Columbia, but construction costs increased since the state applied for the federal funds in 2015, Binkley said. When two facilities could be built, according to 2015 estimates, for about $82 million, the state is estimating only one for that much.
“We’re estimating high to not get caught short again,” Binkley said. “In 2015, we thought it would take about $40 million for one, but when we bid it in 2019, the low bids were in the $60 million range.”
Not having enough money allocated in the state budget to build three nursing homes, the Florence and Gaffney facilities were approved in June by the VA. The Columbia facility was nixed, the process starting over with an eye on Sumter.
Binkley is requesting $37 million in state appropriations in next year’s budget to put toward the Sumter facility and one more, if approved, at an undetermined location.
Using the $20 million leftover from not building the Columbia location, the $37 million includes $9.1 million that the General Assembly must appropriate in its spring 2020 session to meet an August 2020 deadline certifying the state has matched enough funds for the Sumter location. The rest is for what would be required in state matching funds for the seventh state nursing home.
The Florence and Gaffney homes began preliminary site work in May for an anticipated opening date of summer 2021, Binkley said. Sumter’s facility may be ready by 2023, but after the state funds are matched and certified, the VA still must appropriate its share. The state should know by June 2020 if the VA will match.
The 148,000-square-foot facility in Sumter would serve 104 residents and employ a 100-person staff. Binkley said the state is looking at modifications in design to lower construction costs for any future sites, such as semi-private rooms and eliminating in-home dining, that are permitted using state rather than federal guidelines.
State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said while Sumter has always been at the forefront of prioritizing South Carolina’s veterans, he is seeing a “rapid change” across the rest of the state.
“Sumter is a natural fit for something like this. We’re very welcoming to our military and very friendly with our military out at the base,” he said. “Our delegation consistently advocates for issues that are important to veterans, and this was just the icing on the cake. Everything has lined up well for Sumter.”