AUTHOR: MARTY

HED: First residents enter state's new $9.5 million veterans home in Oxford

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

OXFORD - U.S. Army veteran Orman Sheffield has spent the last year in a state veterans home in Jackson about 200 miles from his family in Fulton and Tupelo.

Tuesday, Sheffield was enjoying a first meal in his new home as one of the first three residents to enter the state's new $9.5 million North Mississippi Veterans Home in Oxford.

"I like this," Sheffield said as a nurse helped unpack his belongings in his new room. "This is real nice. I'm just about 60 miles from home now and I was over 200. That's a pretty long way."

Sheffield's son, Larry Sheffield of Tupelo, said his father seemed to be enjoying his first day at his new home.

"It's something new. It will take him a little time to get used to but he's really excited about being closer to home," Larry Sheffield said.

While the 150-bed facility currently has only three residents, Jack Stephens, executive director of the state Veterans Affairs Board, said he expects it to be full within a year.

"The four homes we'll have in Mississippi when the three new ones are opened will mean 65 percent of veterans will live within 60 miles of one of the homes," Stephens said. "Oxford was in about the geographic center of north Mississippi which means veterans in this area would have about an equidistant drive."

The home in Oxford is the second new veterans facility to open this year. One opened earlier in Collins and the state has operated one in Jackson for several years. Another is scheduled to open in Kosciusko later this year.

The new homes, combined with the existing home in Jackson, will give the state 600 nursing home beds for veterans. Currently, there is a waiting list of about 150, Stephens said.

"We believe this will serve the needs of veterans for the future," he said.

The new, 76,000-square-foot facility in Oxford is divided into three wings with 50 beds each. Most of the rooms are semi-private but six rooms in each wing are reserved for single occupancy. One of the wings is reserved for Alzheimer's patients while the others are for the general population, said administrator Van Hendry of PHP Healthcare Corp. The Reston, Va., firm won the contract to manage the three new homes being built in the state. Another firm already operates the Jackson facility.

The home currently operates with a staff of about 25 but Hendry said that number will climb as the number of residents grows. Three physicians are on staff, which he said provides better coverage than most nursing homes.

"The Veterans Administration has physicians in here every day," Hendry said. "Each patient is seen every 30 days but obviously, if something comes up, they can get the doctor to swing by and see them anytime."

Veterans are charged $39 a day of the $78-a-day average cost of the care, Stephens said. However, most receive veterans benefits that defray that cost.

"We will work with the veterans to see that they receive the maximum VA benefits," Stephens said. "Over 90 percent will be able to stay and have it paid for and not have to touch any Social Security benefits they have."

The home is intended for Mississippi residents who served in active duty in the armed forces and were discharged under "other than dishonorable conditions," according to official regulations.

Besides living quarters, the new home in Oxford contains common dining and recreation areas, therapy facilities, a pharmacy and a chapel.

"We're full service," Hendry said. "Everything from medication to bingo."

A grand opening for the facility is slated for 10 a.m. Nov. 2.

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