The North Idaho State Veterans Home was unveiled in Post Falls on Friday, 23 years after local veterans began working to bring to the region a nursing facility for men and women who have served the nation.
More than 300 people, including Gov. Brad Little, former Gov. Butch Otter, Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson, local veterans group representatives, the Northwest Guardian Riders, veterans, veterans’ families and countless others showed up to the grand opening of the new facility.
“We all have to support as much as we can in our community,” said Pete Williams, a member of American Legion Post 154 in Rathdrum.
Williams came to support the keynote speaker, Len Crosby, who was instrumental in earning the grants to fund the building.
“There literally is blood, sweat and tears in these walls from the love and care that these veterans have put into this home — to make sure that it is a home — HOME for our veterans,” said Mark Tschampl, director of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services.
The Pend d’Oreille room was filled to capacity and overflowing into the halls as Little and Tschampl cut the ribbon dedicating the home to veterans of North Idaho.
“The community support has been above and beyond already,” said Colleen Moon, the home administrator.
The Idaho Veterans Assistance League chapter alone raised over $250,000 to support the project, Tschampl said.
“It’s everyone. I don’t think it’s one individual person. It’s us as a team,” said Robert Griese, marketing director for the veterans assistance league, who is also a veteran.
The project came to fruition when preparation met opportunity.
“You apply for the grants, make sure you have the land and things, and once the VA contacts you, if you’re not ready to break ground, then they move onto the next one,” said Mitzi Cheldelin, community resource coordinator for Idaho Division of Veterans Services.
As the Idaho grant application moved forward for approval, the Jacklin family donated the more than 7 acres for the project location, Cheldelin said.
Land can be the most difficult part of a government project and the Jacklins’ donation was instrumental in officially beginning the project in 2014.
When the grant was approved as the land was donated, the project was green-lit.
“They asked if we’re ready and we were standing there with a shovel in our hands and a smile on our faces,” said Crosby, who is also a member of the American Legion Post 154 in Rathdrum. After the ribbon cutting, attendees marveled as they toured the home, argued by many to be the best veterans facility in the nation, one that more closely resembles a Hilton hotel than a nursing home.
There are luxurious modern surfaces, expansive lobbies, community spaces with bars, card tables, dining areas and lounge spaces.
There are 64 bedrooms, each with a private bathroom, flanking 16 central lounges, with a few connected rooms — honeymoon suites that provide space for married veterans.
All 64 residents will have access to the community space with a chapel, barber, bistro, activities center, a multipurpose room, sports club or gym and therapy area.
Because the construction of the building straddled 2020, the plans were revised during construction to include upgrades reflecting COVID-19 priorities, including special heating and ventilation, negative pressure airflow and ultraviolet disinfection lights, that were 100% covered by federal grants.
“It’s probably the cleanest air you can breathe,” said Cody Schaner, coordinator for the Idaho State Veterans Home, Boise.
As a further community collaboration, the veterans’ home will also host certified nursing assistants from the North Idaho College Workforce Training Center. It will be a permanent clinical affiliation with the college.
“When the Idaho State Veterans Home started construction, I had my eye on that place, because I thought that could be something we could really support,” said Marty Matney, health care careers manager for NIC.
The building will be an apprenticeship site and provide lab space for CNA programs.
Staffing the new nursing facility will be a challenge while Kootenai County is still feeling the pangs of a nursing shortage and the Idaho State Veterans Home, Boise branch has two full wings closed because it is unable to staff them, Schaner said.
But the collaboration with NIC should increase staff to the building, and the goal is to provide consistent support for veterans in the space.
For Moon, working with NIC will be an opportunity to build her own work force through the support of the college program.
Moon and Schaner expect the demand for housing in the facility to consistently be above its capacity. Developing skilled nursing staff should address veterans’ needs while adding jobs and skilled workers to the community.
The North Idaho State Veterans Home will slowly open to residents, wing by wing, starting Nov. 24.
“Liberty and prosperity did not come without sacrifice, and we are ever-grateful,” Gov. Little said.
“This is just a small token of what we can do in appreciation for those who have served.”
A home of their own – new nursing facility for veterans opens with fanfare.
By JOSA SNOW Staff Writer