“We are always looking for opportunities to recognize the service of our veterans,” says Joel Dutton, administrator of the Maine Veterans’ Homes (MVH) in South Paris.

Dutton recalls an occasion when one of MVH’s residents received an American flag from his son. The flag had been flown over the military base where his son was serving in Afghanistan. “The resident let us fly that flag at our facility on Veterans Day to recognize his own service, his son’s service, and the service of veterans within our community,” Dutton recalls.

The mission of the Maine Veterans’ Homes is “Caring for those who served.” Embedded within this mission is the understanding that veterans are unique and that their service to their country should be honored. In a sense, every day is Veterans Day at MVH, Dutton says.

Planning A Memorable Anniversary

As the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor approached, a member of a local veterans service organization mentioned he had heard that Congress had authorized the U.S. Navy to donate pieces of the U.S.S. Arizona to organizations such as veterans groups, historical organizations, and educational institutions for display and memorial purposes.
Joel Dutton
In early 2012, Dutton began working with the Western Maine Veterans’ Advisory Committee to develop a plan to create a Pearl Harbor Memorial featuring a piece of the Arizona. The group easily gained support from U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

Dutton, also a veteran, was well aware that this project would not be easy as there were significant administrative hurdles to clear, but he knew it would be worth it for all the residents—each either a veteran or a veteran’s spouse.

On Dec. 7, 2012, a metal piece of the Arizona’s deck house was unveiled during MVH’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Ceremony and 71st anniversary of the sinking of the ship. The home’s large, multipurpose room was filled with residents, family members, community members, staff, and media. Additionally, there were several WWII veterans in attendance.

The actions of one resident, who was stationed aboard a destroyer during the attack on Pearl Harbor, were narrated by Dutton as the resident no longer speaks. The resident was a crew member on a nearby Navy destroyer, from which he launched and piloted one of the ship’s small boats. He made several trips into the oil- and fire-filled waters around the Arizona to rescue survivors of the Japanese attack. Although suffering from advanced dementia, the resident seemed to recognize the story during the ceremony, as evidenced by his tears.

Staff Have A Mission

“Caring for those who served” is something the staff at MVH do with pride. With five other veterans homes in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou, Machias, and Scarborough, MVH provides skilled nursing and long term care for Maine’s veterans and their spouses.

After hearing countless stories of veterans’ selfless service and sacrifice, it is easy to see why the staff of more than 1,100 employees at MVH are committed to providing quality care and services.

The homes regularly participate in veteran-centered events. Several of the homes also partner with their local newspapers to spotlight veterans in a Veteran of the Month feature that tells the resident’s stories and service. Families of the residents also get involved in this feature and bring in photos and memorabilia to display.

State And Local Partnerships

MVH works closely with the Bureau of Maine Veterans’ Services and the state’s legislative leaders to assist veterans and their families in claiming military service medals that the veterans weren’t even aware they had been awarded.

The Scarborough home also partners with a nearby middle school during the school year. For several hours each week, the students and veterans socialize. Sometimes it is a group setting, and sometimes it is one-on-one interaction. The veterans learn what today’s students experience and how technology has transformed how they navigate life.

Some students even assist the veterans with various forms of technology, enabling them to better communicate with their family and friends outside the home.

Quality Award Achievers

All six homes, with 640 total beds, have been recognized by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living National Quality Award program.

This year three of the homes, Machias, Scarborough, and South Paris, received the Silver Award. In 2012, the Caribou home received the Bronze Award, as did the Augusta and Bangor homes in 2010.

“Recognizing the unique needs of veterans and providing them with programs that you typically don’t encounter at other facilities is what really sets us apart,” says Col. (Ret.) Kelley Kash, MVH chief executive officer. “There is a strong sense of camaraderie, not only for our residents, but also for our employees, as the military banter is catching.”

Additionally, MVH was recognized as one of the 2014 Best Places to Work in Maine by the Maine State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management. This program was designed to identify, recognize, and honor the best places of employment in Maine.

“MVH’s success is directly attributable to every employee’s unwavering commitment to our mission,” says Kash. “I think our staff take pride in going the extra mile for our residents because they are very aware of the commitment our veterans made to serve our nation.”

States Support Their Veterans Homes

Each state in the union has at least one state veterans home. There is a common misperception that the homes are part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Instead, many of the more than 150 homes across the country operate as part of their state’s government, receiving a portion of funding through VA. Levels of care range from adult day care to skilled nursing.

In Maine, MVH will be celebrating Veterans Day this year with a number of special activities.
Residents of the center will ride in a parade in an MVH bus designed with a flag wrap, and some residents will be taken out for special Veterans Day meals at local restaurants.

Of course, each home holds its own ceremony to honor veterans, open to the public, with guest speakers and music.

Staffing during a holiday like Veterans Day can be difficult for any facility, but not MVH. Being a part of their special day is just one of the ways staff care for those who served.

Joel Dutton is administrator and Jeff Roosevelt is the former director of public relations at the Maine Veterans’ Homes in South Paris. Dutton can be reached at (207) 743-6300 or jdutton@mainevets.org.