The history of Minnesota's Veterans Homes began shortly after the Civil War. Because of the devastation brought on by that conflict, there was a growing conviction that provisions should be made for the care of the nation's Veterans. The Minnesota legislature authorized the establishment of the Minnesota Soldiers' Home in 1887 as a "reward to the brave and deserving," and a Board of Trustees was established to manage the facility. By 1888 construction at the site of the current Minneapolis Veterans Home had begun; and by 1911 five men's cottages and one women's cottage had been built, along with several support services buildings (infirmary, dining hall, etc).
The mission of Soldiers' Homes, as they were contemplated in the last third of the nineteenth century, was to create beautiful, landscaped communities for Veterans - havens of rest for Veterans' later years. These homes were not primarily designed to be medical facilities. Rather, they were seen as monuments to the contributions of Veterans. In fact, it was not until World War I that medical care was provided in Soldiers' Homes, and even then it was of secondary consideration.
On November 11, 1934, construction of Building 9 on the Minneapolis campus was started. Completed in 1937, Building 9 was constructed almost entirely by hand over a span of nearly three years. The building was demolished in 2009 and was replaced with a 100 bed skilled care facility that was completed and dedicated in 2012. The time capsule from the original cornerstone, buried in November 1934, was opened in front of Residents, families, staff, state leaders and the media on July 7, 2009.
The view that Soldiers' Homes were rest homes persevered in Minnesota until the 1960s. In 1968, for example, the Minneapolis Soldiers' Home was licensed for 56 nursing care beds and 375 boarding care beds, the latter of which represented primarily custodial (non medical) care. By the late 1960s, however, the Soldiers' Home Board of Trustees, along with others, recognized a growing need for making the health care needs of Veterans a primary concern of the Home. The Soldiers' Home had been operated, since its creation, in a military atmosphere: the head of the facility was appointed as Commandant, and services and discipline were meted out in a quasi-military fashion. While the Board of Trustees began to recognize the growing health care needs of the Veteran population, and while there were increased efforts to provide medical and psychiatric care, the Home still had not made the conversion from rest haven to health care facility.
The 1970s were a time of change and growth for the Soldiers Home. In 1972 a new nursing care facility was constructed on the Minneapolis campus, and another was built by 1980. In 1978, the old state hospital in Hastings was converted into a domiciliary residence for Veterans. The Hastings State Hospital was opened in 1900 and closed on May 1, 1978. The Hastings Veterans Home opened on May 4, 1978.
As a result of the new construction in Minneapolis and the conversion of the Hastings facility, the Homes had 250 nursing care beds at Minneapolis, 250 domiciliary beds at Minneapolis and 200 domiciliary beds at Hastings. Along with this growth, the Board of Trustees was abolished, and the administration of the Soldiers' Home became a responsibility of the state Commissioner of Veterans Affairs in an effort to consolidate all matters pertaining to Veterans in one department.
In 1988, the legislature reorganized and separated the Veterans Homes from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Homes Board of Directors was established, consisting of nine members appointed by the governor. The Board was charged with restructuring the Homes along the lines of the medical model of operations and turning them into high quality health care facilities while also taking into consideration the special needs of the Veteran population. To accomplish this dual focus, the Board's membership consists of representatives from the health care field and Veterans organizations. The Board assures that the Homes are operated according to stated goals and standardized practices, policies and procedures, that Residents' rights are recognized and respected, and that a high quality of life is maintained for the Veterans who are Residents of the Homes. The agency itself was managed by an Executive Director, who was responsible for ensuring that the Board's vision for the agency, mission, and goals, are properly operationalized. Each Veterans Home is managed by an administrator, who at the time reported directly to the Executive Director. All of the facilities had medical directors, directors of nursing, and nursing, social services, financial and other staff appropriate to the needs and levels of care of their Veteran Residents.
Over the next 10 years three more facilities were added, bringing the number of Veterans Homes operating in Minnesota to five. The Homes were, and still are, located in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne, Minneapolis and Silver Bay.
The Silver Bay Veterans Home opened on October 10, 1991. The facility for the Home began as Campton Elementary School and was built in 1953 during the mining boom on the North Shore. The school began a transformation to a Veterans Home in 1989. Governor Perpich delivered the grand opening address. Other dignitaries attending included; U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz, U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar, U.S. Representative Tim Penny and a number of state legislators. Fred Janklow was the first Administrator for the Silver Bay Veterans Home.
The Veterans Home in Luverne opened in 1994, and the Fergus Falls Home opened in 1998.
The breakdown of the beds was as follows: Minneapolis, 346 skilled nursing care beds and 77 domiciliary beds; Hastings, 200 domiciliary beds; Silver Bay, 89 skilled nursing care beds; Luverne, 85 skilled nursing care beds, and Fergus Falls, 85 skilled nursing care beds.
On November 19, 2007, the Veterans Home Board was eliminated and the duties and responsibilities were transferred to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.
Building 9 at the Minneapolis Veterans Home was scheduled for replacement in 2009. On July 7th, the original cornerstone from November 11, 1934 was opened and many artifacts were found inside the cornerstone. The new Building 9 consisting of a 100 bed skilled nursing care facility was completed in 2012. In an effort to preserve some of the historical elements from building 9, a number of original features and decor were incorporated and are displayed in the new building, including the cornerstone of building 9.
On July 29th, 2009 a ground breaking was held for a new 33,000 square foot addition at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home. The project was completed in 2011. The focus of the expansion was the special care unit featuring two state-of-the-art "community" or "village" concepts. The design for each of these areas is reminiscent of the look and feel of home, complete with a porch and window. The new special care unit also incorporated street lamps, park benches, a nursing station designed like a depot and enclosed outdoor wandering spaces.
In 2012 the Adult Day Center and Building 19 were opened and dedicated. The Adult Day Center is the second in the country to offer day services in a Veteran-specific model of care operated by a state Veterans Affairs Department. This day program allows Participants maintain their highest level of independence and physical and mental well-being while remaining at home. The Adult Day concept also provides care and respite for caregivers, helping ease the strain of caring for a loved one or family member.
Building 19 is a state-of-the-art skilled nursing care facility that incorporates the latest technology and modern amenities to enhance care. This building has 100 private rooms designed around "neighborhoods" to offer care in a home-style atmosphere. This facility includes a greenhouse, barber and beauty shops, common areas with natural light and greenery and a town square.