Committee tentatively taps St. Lucie County for new nursing home for veterans

A state selection committee has St. Lucie County as its top choice for a new nursing home for veterans.

A preliminary scoring by a selection committee for the state Department of Veterans Affairs has a site in Port St. Lucie coming in first with the highest score.

While the ranking is preliminary, "I’m trying to restrain myself from jumping up and down," St. Lucie County Commission Chairman Frannie Hutchinson said Sunday. She hopes the list will be made official this week so it can be sent on to higher officials for approval.

State VA spokesman Steven Murray confirmed the scoring and said the results will be certified and presented to Mike Prendergast, executive director of the state VA in Largo. Prendergast will make a recommendation to Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet at an Aug. 19 meeting.

St. Lucie County officials, working in cooperation with Port St. Lucie, offered the state a 28-acre site at the western end of Tradition Parkway to build the proposed 100,000-square-foot, 120-bed veterans’ nursing home.

The land, across the street from The Brennity assisted living facility, was be donated by Tradition Land Co., said Glenn Henderson, who is coordinating the application process. Six counties have been competing for the project, which also included Polk, Putman and Manatee counties.

Murray said he is not aware of the VA chief ever bypassing the site selection’s recommendation when he makes a final presentation to the governor.

“I don’t believe there has been any precedent to that in the past,” Murray said.

The proposed facility would serve an area encompassing all of St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, Okeechobee and Highlands counties; as well as portions of Palm Beach, Brevard, Glades, Polk, Hendry and Osceola counties. The region includes an estimated 211,647 veterans, nearly half of which are age 65 and older, according to the VA.

The veterans’ service area is described as a 75-mile radius from where the nursing home gets built. This will be the state VA’s seventh nursing home.

Besides a land site having to be donated that is not in a flood zone, the community has to commit $500,000 in cash toward the project.

Murray, with the state VA, said both St. Lucie and Marion counties had pledged the funding.

As a voting member of the committee, Murray said the two Collier sites were “a little bit far away” compared to the St. Lucie site, which has a brand new hospital, a hotel and affordable housing nearby. In addition, the roads leading into the site were good and the site is shovel ready to start construction.

Townsend, with Collier’s public services department, said the one positive to come out of Collier’s efforts is that the state intends to build four more nursing homes in the next seven to 10 years.

“And so we will have an opportunity to apply again,” she said. “I think we have a shot the next time and will take some lessons (away) from this time.”

The state’s intent with the new nursing home is to have construction begin in 2015. The Florida VA has $17 million available and will apply for another $30 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The most recent VA nursing home opened in September 2010 in St. Augustine at a cost of $31 million.