Illinois American Legion sees a commitment to quality of care at state veterans home

The nearly 300 veterans and their spouses residing at the historic Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy will soon have new state-of-the-art facilities to move into that will provide enhanced care and amenities for a better quality of life. A 251,000-square-foot long-term care facility and a 74,900-square-foot independent living facility are under construction as part of a $300 million renovation and rehabilitation project funded by the state of Illinois.

“We’ve always cared for our veterans out here. This home has always been a great place for care,” said Dave Clifford, chief engineer at the Illinois Veterans Home overseeing the construction. “But we sure are glad what we are getting now will better care for these residents. These residents are coming from different theaters, different wars and their needs are changing. This facility will be flexible enough to change with those needs and meet those needs. That is important to us.”

Clifford and Administrator Chuck Newton gave a tour of the new construction to American Legion Department of Illinois leadership and National Vice Commander Mark Shreve of Georgia, who was visiting the department, on Jan. 19. Dressed in personal protective equipment, Shreve, Illinois Past National Commander and Department Adjutant Marty Conatser, Department Commander Delmar Buske, Sons of The American Legion Detachment Commander Michael Vozar, Auxiliary Department President Angie Golightly, National Executive Committeeman Roy Weber and others walked through the long-term care and independent living facility to see for themselves the state-of-the-art facilities veterans and their loved one will call home.

It was important for Conatser to bring department leadership to help spread the word throughout the state to other Legion Family members of the dedication being made at the 138-year-old home to improve care for veterans. “There is a real commitment being made here,” Conatser said. “A lot of our veterans don’t realize that they have made this big of a commitment to bring it up to a state-of-the-art facility. It’s going to be top-notch. This home will eventually be the standard of more of a home setting for our veterans instead of just a room to live in.”

Legion Family members boarded a bus to tour parts of the 211-acre campus and new facilities. They first visited the long-term care facility, which Clifford described by saying, “It’s not a clinical building. You’re going to think you’re home. It’s a unique facility.”

The long-term care facility will house 210 skill-care beds and provide full amenities, to include a movie theater, pub and a café that the independent living residents will have full access to, verandas and a garden. It also has a state-of-the-art kitchen that will feed all residents, a pharmacy and an expansive laundry room that features a sheet folding and shirt-press machine. Shreve was impressed with the technology of a sheet folding machine.

“This is really a strong commitment to technology and improvement of the quality of life for our veterans,” he said. “I really love to see the improvements and everything that I look at in the lens of our veterans is really their quality of life, and what I see at this facility is a commitment to building that quality of life. And that when a veteran comes here, they’re going to be comfortable, they’re going to be calm and they’re going to be very happy with the things that go on here. If I was a veteran in Illinois, I would want to come here and have this as part of my future.”

Both facilities are designed to provide a home-like environment with hardwood floors, large windows that open, spacious living quarters, tile, woodgrain finishings, barn doors leading to the bathroom, quality finishes, electric fireplaces in the common areas, and more. A covered four-season walkway will connect the two facilities for veterans, their spouses and staff to use.

The independent living facility will have 80 one-bedroom and studio apartments. Currently, residents living in the two domiciliary buildings were built in 1907 and 1909.

“This is a huge upgrade. Residents deserve this new infrastructure, without a doubt,” Clifford said, adding that the veterans are excited to move in. “The veterans love it. It’s that piece of candy that you reach for but can’t quite get to it yet, but you know it’s going to be good when you get it. They are seeing this project from start to finish. They want to get in those buildings sooner than later. And we want them in those buildings. There’s a hubbub all over campus.”

With the new infrastructure, Clifford is excited to provide the veterans a true dining experience. The food currently served is put in meal delivery trays that, because of transportation, is not always hot, and the same food is put on each tray unless there is a specific dietary need. Now, meals will be served hot and fresh from a buffet, on a real plate, that comes directly from the new high-end kitchen in the long-term care facility.   

“It’s going to be a whole different meal experience,” he said. “We want to create an experience for them, and that’s what we are going to do.”

Part of that experience will be the residents will never seeing a commercial truck backed up to the property, as it will all be done in a tunnel system in the back of the long-term care facility. “It’s a neat thing that we are doing here,” Clifford said. “I expect that this home will be an example for a boiler plate for the homes coming up in the future for federal VA homes. I really do see it. It’s going to be a beautiful home.”

The new facilities will be a welcome addition to the beautiful campus that the historic Illinois Veterans Home sits on.  

Built in 1886 to serve disabled veterans of the Mexican and Civil War, the Illinois Veterans Home sits on 211 acres of land and is the largest and oldest veterans’ home of the five in Illinois. Among the many things, the property features a chapel, museum, lake in the shape of Illinois for residents to fish, deer park, cemetery where 7,600 men and women are buried, and many historical buildings. The home used to be self-sustained from the city with its own cattle, gardens, coal-burning power plant and water system.

There is an activities director onsite to keep the residents engaged, while the home also hosts a car and tractor show, among other things. Plus, the physical therapy building has a 94-degree pool with a floor that rises and lowers for aquatic wheelchairs; only one of two in the state. “It’s a great place to live. It really is,” Clifford said.   

And The American Legion is a great supporter of the home. A past American Legion Operation Warriors grant provided nine televisions, an Auxiliary member is on staff, and an American Legion pavilion with a large hand-laid stone fireplace overlooks the lake that was the project of Past Department of Illinois Commander Bill Atteberry. “You can put a big fire in there, and yes we do,” Clifford said. “We have people who come here and use it. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Additionally, members of Post 37 in Quincy consistently support the needs of the veterans with toiletries, clothing and other necessities. Post member Roger Schwengel would even talk with the veterans at the home about their needs and report that back to the construction crew. “He’s been right there every step of the way as a representative of the veterans,” Clifford said. “He would get a good feel for what they wanted and come back to the construction team and say, ‘Here’s what I’m hearing.’ (The American Legion) is just an incredible organization. They love veterans.”

As the Illinois Veterans Home continues with its multi-million dollar enhancement for the better care of its veterans, Conatser said, “You will see the Legion Family continue to support (the home). They are using the most innovative designs and desires to make it a more family-friendly area, and that makes a big difference. They’ve had troubles in the past, they’re on the right path and they’ve made a major, major monetary to our veterans.”

The long-term care and independent living facility are projected to be done by the spring and summer. It’s a project that after 16 years on staff as the chief engineer, Clifford is proud of what the entire staff has done to provide the best care to veterans and their spouses.

“I’ve got a great team of people who I work with as well who are just as invested as I am,” he said. “I simply love taking care of these veterans. They served us, (now) this is my time to serve them.”