Saturday, July 11, 2015

History of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

A bit outdated, but still very informative, is a history of the Home in Grand Rapids. A paper written for the state congress back in 1997, contains a lot of usefull information about the history of the home. Part of that is being reprinted here. After reading it, one understands that many changes have taken place since the beginning of the Michigan home for veterans, and the last few years have been responsible for writing some of the darkest pages of the homes history

For many Michiganians, the fact that the State operates two nursing homes for veterans is a well kept secret. One wouldn't necessarily notice the two homes, as the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is tucked away in a park-like environment on the Grand River in the north of Grand Rapids, and the D. J. Jacobetti Home is situated on the shore of Lake Superior in the City of Marquette. Still others, in an era of government downsizing, might wonder why the State is in the business of running a nursing home. The answer to that question dates back to the Civil War, when during the war's aftermath the State chose to honor a debt to wartime veterans who were in need by establishing a State home for veterans in Grand Rapids. Nearly a hundred years later, a second home in Marquette was established by the State.
The purpose of this paper is to provide a description of the origin and history of the commitment by the State to wartime veterans in need of nursing care, the role of the Federal government in providing care assistance, and the State Homes' objectives, services, facilities, admissions, population, and funding. This report will concentrate primarily on the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, as it is the State's first and largest veterans home, nearly triple the size of the D. J. Jacobetti Home. It should be noted that the goals and services of each Home are the same, and differ only in size and in certain methods of service delivery that are the result of the economy of scale enjoyed by the Grand Rapids Home. Both offer domiciliary, skilled, and special needs care and a wide variety of social and therapeutic activities. The Grand Rapids Home primarily attracts veterans across the Lower Peninsula as members, while the D. J. Jacobetti Home draws 90% of its membership from veterans from the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan's Grand Rapids Home for Veterans had its beginnings in the years following the Civil War as a reaction to the devastating impact that conflict had on the State's population. On a national level, it is estimated that 400,000 to 500,000 soldiers were disabled from that war, from either wounds or disease. In the 20 years following the war, veterans groups voiced concern about the numbers of soldiers in ill health or poverty-stricken. The Federal government responded by establishing a national soldiers home in Washington, D.C., which was funded by a 12.5-cent monthly deduction from the pay of all enlisted U.S. military personnel. Other national homes were created during this period in Maine, Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The objectives of these homes were to provide housing and medical and nursing care to indigent ex-soldiers and to help them lead orderly lives.
The homes that were developed, called National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, were quickly filled and a rising population of middle-aged veterans who applied for entry in these homes outstripped capacities. In the State of Michigan, which provided 93,000 troops to the Union Army during the Civil War, the public became concerned over the increasing numbers of State veterans who were poverty-stricken and living in poorhouses. In 1884, the Michigan Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a Union Army veterans organization, began a lobbying effort to locate a national soldiers home in the State. Bills in both houses of Congress were introduced to provide authorization for the building of a branch of the National Home in Michigan. This effort was ultimately unsuccessful, due in part to an argument that a Michigan National Home location would be an inefficient siting due to the State's proximity to existing National branches at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Dayton, Ohio.
Undaunted by their lack of success at the Federal level, the GAR and other supporters of a Michigan Home turned to the Michigan Legislature for support in 1885. Responding to the fact that 460 veterans had been in poorhouses the previous winter and a hundred others were taken care of at GAR posts, the Michigan Legislature passed legislation creating a Michigan Soldiers Home. On June 5, 1885, Governor Russell A. Alger signed into law Public Act 152 of 1885 which established a home for disabled soldiers, sailors and marines in the State and created a six-member board of managers.

Within months of the bill's enactment, a Board of Managers was appointed and a site was selected for the Home, a 132-acre farm property along the Grand River in Grand Rapids. A building contract for the construction of the Home was awarded to the winning bidder of $99,667.57, and ground was broken in March 1886. The completed original building opened its doors on January 1, 1887. It was a three-story brick structure designed to house 450 veterans with a total floor space of 24,000 feet.
It wasn't long before additional facilities were deemed necessary for the Home. In 1889, a 94-person capacity dormitory, a morgue, and a root house were added. Other improvements, including an electric light system and a flush toilet system were added during this time period. A posthumous fund, funded by money received from the estate of a veteran who died at the Home without heirs, was used to fund a cemetery, monument, and a fountain in front of the building. By 1890, the average daily population of the Home was 564 and the annual State appropriation for the Home was $82,500. The average cost per capita at the Home was $161.25, of which $100 was paid for by the Federal government.
In 1893, the Michigan Legislature acted to provide for the admission of wives, widows, and mothers of veterans. An appropriation of $15,000 was established to construct a women's dormitory at the Home. A 30-room dormitory for women was dedicated and opened on January 3, 1894. Under the rules of admission, a woman was required to demonstrate that she was unable to earn a living, had no support from relatives, and was of good moral character.
As the 1900s approached, the Grand Rapids Home witnessed increased admissions and subsequent expansion of facilities and higher operating budgets. Annual State appropriations had passed the $100,000 mark and rose to $134,000 in 1904, when the Home had 1,035 admissions, double its initial admissions. Operational costs for the Home rose, in part due to the rising average age of members. For years many able members were used for work details around the facility, but with more and more members unable to perform on work details due to medical problems, a rise in the need for civilian employees resulted, with a corresponding need for employee housing. The appropriated amount for 1906 included $190,000 for special projects, bringing the total State appropriation for that year to $360,500. The appropriation amount for the Grand Rapids Home was the highest appropriation to any State institution with the exception of the two State universities. One item on the list of special projects was $75,000 for a new hospital. The facility was completed in 1909, providing 250 beds for men and 50 for women. The old hospital building built in 1889 was converted to a dormitory.
The use of members' military pension funds by the Home became an issue in the early 1900s. In 1907, Congress passed a military pension bill that for the first time applied to all veterans who met age and length of service requirements, not just those who were physically disabled, as had been the case prior to this bill. In 1912, $30 per month was established as the top pension rate. The Grand Rapids Home had a rule that allowed members to keep $5 a month from their pensions and required the rest to be turned over to the Home. Under the rules, a veteran who received more than $12 per month would not be eligible for admission to the Home except by the recommendation of the Commandant. Those veterans with a pension exceeding $12 per month who were admitted would have to turn over all but the $12 to the Home. Negative public and political reaction to the use of pension funds by the Home resulted in attempts to prohibit the Home from using pensions or charging anyone for care. The dispute culminated in 1920 with the implementation of a new State law that allowed the Home's Board of Managers to levy a charge of $20 a month on those members who had monthly incomes of $50 or more. At the same time, the Federal government raised its annual allotment from $100 to $120 per capita per year, or half the cost of an individual's care, whichever amount was smaller.
The 1920s saw a declining average membership at the Home which would continue until the end of World War II. This occurred despite the economic hardships of the depression and the aging of World War I veterans. The decline in population at the Home can be traced in large part to the establishment of the Federal Veterans Administration (VA) in 1930. The creation of the administration combined various programs for veterans and provided more assistance to veterans as well as funding for additional VA hospitals and additional services for the veterans at these facilities. These changes made it easier and more attractive for a veteran to partake of Federal benefits. This gave the veteran more options than simply going into retirement at a State Veterans Home.
The depression of the 1930s had its impact on the Grand Rapids Home. Few capital improvements were made and staff had to be reduced. The Home reinstated its work detail program to help minimize the effect of cuts in personnel. It was during this time that members of the Home began the manufacturing of paper poppies that were sold by American Legion members to generate funds for veterans programs. Further hampering funding for the Home was that the Federal government, despite numerous increases in veterans benefits, had failed for many years to increase the stipend to State Veterans Homes. In 1937, the payment to the Home was only $120 per veteran per year. In 1939, Congress did act to increase the stipend to $365.
During World War II, Home membership was at its lowest level in history, 223, one-third of whom were women. In addition, the last Civil War veteran who still resided at the Home, Martin J. Warner, died in March 1945. By the end of World War II, the population would rise considerably. The average age of a World War I veteran was now nearing 60. Most Spanish-American War veterans were disabled because of age. The Home's population increased to 500 in 1946 and to 1,000 in 1949; 75% of whom were World War I veterans. Another reason for the population increase was the existence of long waiting lists at Veterans Administration hospitals in the aftermath of World War II for disabled Michigan veterans.
Despite the increase in Federal support to $500 per veteran per year, the Home tried to cut back its costs as best it could to deal with the rising number of admissions. The facility at various times had stopped admitting women to keep the Home's population at a manageable level. Throughout the 1950s, the population would be maintained at an average of close to 1,000 members.
In anticipation of future expansion of member population due to World War II, a postwar building boom for the Home took place. Two domiciliary units were constructed; one was completed in 1946 at a cost of $460,000 (the R.V. Gay Building), and the other in 1948 for $715,000 (the J. Gordon Rankin Building). A new power plant was completed in 1956 at a cost of approximately $1.0 million.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a question as to the Home's focus arose. Throughout its history, the Grand Rapids Home's prime purpose was to provide domiciliary care to veterans. An emphasis began to be placed on the Home's hospital operations. Many improvements to the hospital's facilities and increases in services were made. In 1953, the hospital became fully accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. The Board of Managers at the time had expressed interest in the possibility of constructing a new 500-bed hospital, but it would never come to pass.
For the year 1956, there were 980 male veteran members at the Home, consisting of one veteran from the Mexican War, 49 veterans from the Spanish-American War, 797 from World War I, and 133 from World War II. There were 53 women at the Home, consisting of seven Civil War widows, one Indian Wars widow, 19 Spanish American War widows, wives, nurses, and five World War II mothers. The budget for that year was $1.2 million, which included $1.1 million for operating expenses including $700,000 for 183 Civil Service employees and two unclassified employees. The revenue source for the Home's budget consisted of approximately $450,000 in General Fund money, $375,000 from the Federal government in per diem payments, $180,000 from an assessment against members' government pensions of no less than 25% and no more than 60% plus the retention of 50% of all other income up to but not exceeding the per diem individual maintenance cost (which was $3.15 at the time), and $117,000 in grant funds from the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund.
As the 1960s approached, supporters of the Home began to examine the changing needs of veterans who would be entering the Home. It was determined that the State faced a shortage of housing appropriate for those who required nursing or medical care. A report in 1956 pointed out that while Michigan ranked seventh in the number of persons it sent to the armed forces for World War II, it ranked only 42nd in available health care facilities for veterans. In addition, a national survey competed by the VA confirmed a trend that had been witnessed in Michigan: that there was a shift away from domiciliary needs and an increase in need for nursing care for long-term illnesses and disabilities. With increased societal benefits for retired veterans, more aging veterans were able to maintain themselves independently without having to seek domiciliary care at a veterans home. At the same time, an increasing percentage of those who applied for admission to veterans homes required a wide range of nursing care that was not available in accommodations designed for domiciliary care.
The Grand Rapids facility responded to this need for increased nursing care by remodeling the Rankin Building into a 217-bed facility for long-term care of those who suffered from chronic disease or disability. The new unit was opened in 1963. By the mid 1960s, a decision had to be made about the Home's hospital. Studies had shown that the hospital was outmoded and would require extensive renovation or replacement to bring it into compliance with the minimum standards of a modern hospital. Faced with the potential cost of building and maintaining a sophisticated hospital, it became apparent that the needs of the Grand Rapids Home could not justify the cost of running a full-service hospital. This decision allowed the Home to devote its resources to nursing and domiciliary care. Doctors were already coming in from outside the Home to treat its members, and increasingly, members were being sent to community hospitals for treatment as well.
In 1970, the Grand Rapids Veterans Facility was placed under the responsibility of the State Department of Public Health. The Department was responsible for setting standards of care for nursing facilities. The Department defined three primary levels of nursing care: domiciliary (supervised residential care), basic (care of patients who require medication and minimal assistance), and skilled (care of those who need more assistance and constant nursing). As acute care services declined with the phase-out of hospital operations, the facility reduced the number of staff physicians from five to three, a number that the Department had judged appropriate for what was to become exclusively a nursing care institution. The Home then added nursing personnel to meet the Department's minimum standards. The Home increased therapeutic services by expanding existing occupational and physical therapy services and adding speech, hearing, psychiatric, and inhalation therapy services. A social worker was hired to the staff and an education program was set up with the Grand Rapids Board of Education. In addition, a new alcoholism treatment program was added.
With the Home's focus now clearly turned to nursing care, the facility sought to embark upon a building program to remove outdated buildings and construct new ones that would meet modern standards of nursing care. In a fortunate development, the Federal government in the 1960s had developed a funding program that would provide matching funds to those states that would upgrade their state veterans home. The State took advantage of this program and a budget of $8.2 million was included in 1972 for the purposes of tearing down the old main building, the hospital and the old nurses' dormitory, as well as constructing a new nursing care building and renovating the existing Rankin and Gay Buildings. The project was completed in 1975, and the result was that 343 beds for skilled care nursing were provided for in the new structure (named the McLeish Building). In the Rankin Building 194 basic care beds were established, and 230 domiciliary beds were available in the Gay Building. The McLeish Building, connected by a walkway to the other buildings, also would house administrative offices and other services. A new chapel also was constructed from donated funds.
In 1977, the Michigan Legislature acted to specify further the nature of the membership of the Home's supervisory body, the Board of Managers, and bring it to its current configuration. Until Public Act 48 of 1977, the Board of Managers was to be made up of seven members appointed by the Governor, of whom only one was required to be a veteran (of the Spanish-American War). The new Act required that two board members be representatives of the American Legion, two from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), one from Disabled American Veterans, one from American Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam (AMVETS), and one war-time veteran who was not a representative of the aforementioned veterans organizations.
As the Home entered the 1980s, yearly population averages ranged over 700 members. The largest group of veterans, those from World War II, made up 70% of the Home's membership. Vietnam war veterans began to appear at the facility but only in small numbers which equaled about 3% of the total. As defined by type of care received, the facility was providing domiciliary care to 20% of its membership and basic nursing care to 40%, as well as skilled nursing care to another 40%.
The early 1980s brought about the creation of an Upper Peninsula annex to the Grand Rapids Home. The Board of Managers had embarked on a feasibility study in 1976 for an Upper Peninsula facility and ultimately chose the City of Marquette as the site for such a facility. The facility was opened in 1981 utilizing the facilities of the former St. Mary's Hospital and was named for an Upper Peninsula State Representative who was involved in the efforts to establish the facility, D. J. Jacobetti. The hilltop location of the facility provides a view of Lake Superior. By the mid-1980s, the new Home's membership totals would reach 100; later, its population would rise to over 200 members.
The increasing demand for nursing care at the Grand Rapids Home continued: In 1979 only a handful of veterans were on a waiting list for nursing care; by the mid-1980s the list would grow to 80 or more. To provide for this need, and to accommodate a growing number of patients suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, more space suitable for caring for these cases had to be found. The Mann Building, constructed in 1946 as a domiciliary unit, was considered as an option for this purpose. However, since the building would have to be completely gutted and rebuilt in order to meet nursing care standards, the State decided that replacing the entire building was more feasible. Therefore, a new $14 million-plus Mann Building was completed in 1987 at the Grand Rapids Facility. The building, with 120,000 square feet, provides 40,000 more square feet than the building it replaced. Though the increased space did not add to the overall capacity of the Home, every bed in the Mann Building now meets nursing care standards, and units are now present to care specifically for Alzheimer patients. In 1986, the D. J. Jacobetti Home opened one of Michigan's first nursing units established for veterans suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. In 1992, the Jacobetti Home opened a new 50-bed wing.
The early 1990s signaled changes in the State administrative control over the State's veterans homes. Executive Orders 1991-7 and 1992-1 transferred both Michigan Veterans Homes from the Department of Public Health to the Michigan Department of Military Affairs (DMA). This action placed the Homes under the responsibility of the DMA's Division of Veterans Affairs, which now includes the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, the Veterans Tuition Program, and other veterans services. For 1997, the Grand Rapids Veterans Home has a total care capacity of 757, making it the largest nursing care facility in the State, and a total budget of $32.8 million, while the D. J. Jacobetti Veterans Home in Marquette has a total membership capacity of 241, and an annual budget of $11.2 million.

Full article found at The history of the Michigan Veterans Homes.      


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