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Health News Florida

Cabinet Taps St. Lucie for Vets' Nursing Home

VA_nursing_home.jpg
Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday selected St. Lucie County as the site of the state's next nursing home for military veterans -- and indicated they might consider another new nursing home next year.

Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam voted unanimously to approve the western Port St. Lucie site, which the Department of Veterans' Affairs had recommended for the state's seventh veterans' nursing home.

"It is clear by the occupancy rates at every one of the previous six that it's soon going to be time for eight, nine and 10," Atwater said.

The state's other veterans' nursing homes are in Daytona Beach, Land O' Lakes, Pembroke Pines, Panama City, Port Charlotte and St. Augustine.

State Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican and leader of the St. Lucie delegation, said the new facility would fill a service gap on the Treasure Coast.

"This is going to have a service area of 11 counties, and right now there’s a gap in service all the way from Daytona Beach to Pembroke Pines," Negron said. "So, it’s really not just in St. Lucie County. It’s the entire region of the East Coast."

The vote followed a parade of officials from St. Lucie County and Marion County praising the selection process. Marion County came in a close second.

The only dissent came from a legislative aide to Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples. He told Cabinet members Hudson believed the selection process was "not objective."

"It still remains unclear why an East Coast county was chosen over counties on the West Coast with greater need and sites that met the established qualifications," Hudson aide Stefano Perez said.

But Negron defended the selection process as "thorough, objective and transparent."

"Need is important," he said. "But need is only one aspect. There is also the ability to meet that need."

The site-selection committee looked at nine sites in six counties, visiting each one and talking with local officials. Among the selection criteria were the proximity of the site to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers and civilian health-care facilities, nearby colleges producing health-care graduates, road access and land-use restrictions.

St. Lucie County offered a 28.5-acre site donated by the Tradition Land Company. The county has already rezoned the land to accommodate a nursing home and expects the 120-bed facility will employ roughly 190 people.

"I think that the process worked," said Republican U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, who represents part of Marion County. "I wish it would have worked a little differently. But at the end of the day, I think you made the right decision."

In fact, Marion County officials said, the selection process had worked so well that its findings should be applied when the next veterans' nursing home location is chosen.

"We consider ourselves next, and we wanted to lay that template down today," said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "And we're very grateful that St. Lucie is joining us in saying, 'That was close. You guys should be next.' "

Florida has roughly 700,000 military veterans over age 65, according to Department of Veterans' Affairs Executive Director Mike Prendergast.

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