Thursday, September 2, 2004

U.S. Rep. Ed Case, left, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Big Island Mayor Harry Kim took part in a ceremonial whack at the old Hilo Hospital yesterday. The hospital will be demolished to make way for Hawaii's first state-run Veterans Care Home.

new ground

The old Hilo Hospital makes way
for a new veterans' care home

HILO >> With blows from small sledgehammers, officials knocked a stone out of a wall at the old, vacant Hilo Hospital building yesterday, a symbolic beginning of the demolition making way for a new state veterans home in two years.

The facility will repay veterans for their service, said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. Recalling the three-word motto of the U.S. Military Academy, Inouye said, "'Duty, honor, country' is not a one-way proposition."

The $28 million, 99-bed facility will be open by January 2006, said Hilo Medical Center Administrator Ron Schurra.

Exactly who among veterans and their families will be eligible and what level of care will be provided remain to be worked out, said Tom Driskill, chief executive of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which operates 12 state hospitals and will operate the veterans home.

The veterans facilities across the nation are deliberately called state veterans homes because they are operated by state agencies, despite partial funding from the federal government, Driskill said. The result is local decisions about eligibility.

"We will have some kind of veterans management council," he said.

The 99 beds were a compromise, since veterans initially wanted 200 beds, said veteran Delbert Nishimoto who worked for approval of the project. Veterans Affairs formulas would allow up to 214 beds in Hawaii, he said.

The state is providing $10 million for the project, while the federal portion is $18 million.

The facility will be designed so it can be expanded, Driskill said. The Hawaii Health Systems Corp. is looking at additional needs beyond the present design, which could mean expansion or creation of a second home elsewhere in the state, Driskill said.

The important thing is to get into the "queue" now for future federal funding, he said.

Veteran Marvin Razin asked Driskill if he would have to give up his present benefits to be eligible. Driskill said no but added that Razin would have to contribute to covering the cost of services.

Mayor Harry Kim said the facility should not become an "institution."

"We'll keep it so when they come, they're coming home," he said.



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