Hilo veterans
home gets funding

Gov. Lingle OKs $10 million for an
expandable 95-bed long-term care facility

Gov. Linda Lingle said she has notified the federal government that she is releasing $10 million as the state's share for construction of a 95-bed military veterans home in Hilo.

Today was the deadline for getting 2-to-1 matching federal funding.

The go-ahead of the state's first long-term care facility for veterans is the result of dogged pursuit by the Big Island community and veterans groups, and especially Mayor Harry Kim, she said yesterday.

When first approached, Lingle said she told supporters that as a new governor trying to balance the budget, she was not sure the state could afford such a project. At the time it was for a 200-bed facility with the state's construction cost pegged at $16 million, with the federal government paying $29 million.

"It's not a comfortable position to be in to have to tell people who are so enthusiastic in a project and working so hard for grass-roots funding" no, she said. "But the people of Hilo never gave up."

The Legislature appropriated $16 million for the construction, but Lingle's administration scaled back the facility to 95 beds, although with a built-in design that allows for expansion, she said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, arranged for the U.S. Veterans Administration to kick in 65 percent of the construction costs.

Operating costs will be reduced because the facility will be on the campus of the state's Hilo Medical Center where it can have access to medical, laundry and food services. It is expected to be operated under contract by a private management firm.

When asked why the veterans home is being built in Hilo instead of on Oahu, where a majority of Hawaii's estimated 120,000 veterans live, Lingle said it is because the Hilo community made it happen.

"I think I can say with confidence that it's highly likely this would not have come about without the commitment of the people," she said.

"I've been in government for 20 years. I've seen a lot of projects supported. I've seen people get excited about a project, but this one had the breadth of community support," Lingle said. "It was across party lines, across age groups, across ethic groups, and you all should go home feeling good about what you've done for the veterans."

Lingle noted that consultants hired by Hawaii Health Systems Corp., the semiautonomous agency that operates the state-owned community hospitals, determined a 95-bed facility would meet the needs of Big Island veterans and be operated without a state subsidy.

Construction is expected to take two years.

As for the rest of Hawaii's veterans, Lingle noted that the consultants' report recommended a study of the demand on Oahu and consideration of another home there.


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