A new, $87.3 million nursing home for veterans is planned for Orangeburg County.
The home is needed because nearby facilities are full with waiting lists, Orangeburg County Veteran Affairs Officer Kenisha Grimes said.
“Many Orangeburg County vets are being housed at private facilities,” Grimes said. “With this new veterans home, that will save many veterans money. Their families won't have to travel so far to see their loved ones.”
“Private pay facilities place a financial strain on many veterans’ families who cannot afford it,” Grimes continued.
The agency’s application, which will be filed with the VA prior to April 15th, will propose a 104 bed facility similar to the plans for the facilities in Sumter County and Horry County.
It would be located on U.S. 301 off of exit 154 on Interstate 26.
Grimes said Orangeburg County provides an ideal, central location.
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It about 35 miles from the nearest veterans hospital and even closer to a private hospital.
The area also provides easy access to the facility because of its proximity to an interstate exit.
“It will bring jobs to the area and also support the local colleges who have nursing programs,” she said.
The new State Veterans Nursing Home is expected to address the needs of veterans who will reach retirement age in the next two decades.
The home would be funded by the federal and state governments as part of the VA State Home Construction Grant Program.
It’s projected that federal funding could become available for the home by federal fiscal year 2031, if it’s included in the federal fiscal year 2023 VA priority list, according to the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
The SCDMH recommended a new veterans home be built in the county.
The recommendation was based upon the request of the state's Joint Bond Review Committee that the department determine the needs and feasibility of additional state veterans homes.
The JBRC is a 10-member legislative body that oversees state capital improvement projects.
The JBRC approved the SCDMH's recommendation late last year.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who sits on the JBRC, says she has advocated for a veterans nursing home in Orangeburg County for some time.
“A few years ago, the late Howard Metcalf, former state director for Veteran Affairs, suggested to me that Orangeburg County would be an excellent site for a nursing home,” Cobb-Hunter said. “I agreed and began working then on securing approval of a facility for the county.”
Metcalf made the suggestion based on his knowledge and experience of the needs of veterans in the area, said Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.
“I was thrilled when the recommendation to site the next facility in Orangeburg County was approved and see it as the next step in my efforts to make sure that Orangeburg County gets its fair share,” Cobb-Hunter said. “Of course, the process is just beginning, and I will remain vigilant to ensure that this facility becomes a reality.”
The SCDMH estimates the base cost of the home constructed in federal fiscal year 2031 at $87.3 million. It would be funded by the federal VA at $56.7 million, with the state matching $30.6 million.
The SCDMH will submit the state portion of the funding in its 2022-2023 fiscal year capital budget.
“While awaiting state and federal funding for the facility, the agency will be working with Orangeburg County officials to identify and secure an appropriate site for the future SVNH,” said SCDMH Director of Governmental & Legislative Affairs Mark Binkley.
Orangeburg County was chosen for the new veterans home because of:
• The projected number of veterans over age 65
• The location of existing homes
• Geographic characteristics, including locations within evacuation zones, accessibility for veterans and their families, and availability of an adequate health care workforce
“Orangeburg County brands itself as the Global Logistics Triangle because of its location,” Cobb-Hunter said. “That plays a key role in providing access to veterans living in a number of counties in proximity to Orangeburg.”
“For Orangeburg County veterans who need that level of care, the facility would eliminate the need for out-of-pocket expenses some veterans are currently having to pay to receive such care at private facilities,” she said. “It would also help address the waiting lists that exist at the Columbia and Walterboro facilities.”
According to the 2020 census, about 6,066 veterans live in Orangeburg County. About 3,102 are over 65.
By 2030, the projections are the county will have 4,919 veterans, with 2,741 over 65. By 2040, 3,828 veterans are projected to live in the county, with 2,029 over 65.
While the county is projected to rank 20th in the number of veterans 65 and older in future decades, it either borders or is geographically accessible to six of the 13 counties projected to have the most veterans, according to a SCDMH study.
In Calhoun County, there are 1,031 veterans, with 501 of them over 65. In 2030, there are projected to be 941 veterans, with 555 over 65 and, in 2040, there are projected to be 788 veterans, 460 of them over 65.
In Bamberg County, there are currently 1,210 veterans, with 645 over 65. In 2030, there are projected to be 1,060 veterans, with 598 over 65, and, in 2040, it’s projected there will be 870 veterans, with 436 over age 65.
Orangeburg County is in relatively close proximity to coastal counties with large populations of veterans age 65 and older, yet it is well away from evacuation zones.
Currently, all or portions of six of the 20 counties heavily populated by veterans are included in coastal evacuation zones: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties.
SCDMH estimated it could cost up to 20% more to build to evacuation zone construction specifications.
Cobb-Hunter says the nursing home for veterans is a “game changer” for the county and veterans in the area.
“In addition to increasing the quality and level of services available to veterans, the economic impact and opportunities for workforce development are significant,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The number of jobs created and the spin-off from other amenities built to service the facility will have a positive impact on the local economy.”
Orangeburg County has several higher education institutions and nursing pipeline programs which can help fill the need for health care workers. The county is home to South Carolina State University, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and Claflin University, with Denmark Technical College nearby in Bamberg County.
Cobb-Hunter said these institutions will have an opportunity to, “work with the facility on securing student internships, practicums and other hands-on experiences that will help grow the health care workforce.”
“Additionally, I think the untapped potential for research in a number of areas can lead to interesting treatment applications in the future,” Cobb-Hunter said.
The SCDMH currently operates three veterans nursing homes – in Columbia, Anderson and Walterboro. A fourth home has been licensed by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control in Florence.
Construction of a fifth home in Cherokee County has been completed, and that facility is awaiting DHEC licensure prior to admitting new residents, Binkley said.
The VA has approved conditional grant funding for a home construction project in Sumter County, which will be the state’s sixth veterans nursing home. The project is on schedule to complete grant award requirements, with construction likely to begin in late spring 2022.
SCDMH, at the JBRC’s earlier direction, also submitted an application to the VA for an additional construction grant for a home in Horry County.
That application has not yet been approved for VA funding, Binkley said.
“In the meantime, the Department of Mental Health has been working with Horry County officials to identify a suitable site for the future facility, which will become the state’s seventh SVNH," Binkley said.
Based on 2020 population projections, the state needs 1,089 beds.