Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough has received a rare award for its level of care.

Ever since her father, a World War II-era veteran, moved into the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough this past summer, Jodi Dvilinsky makes it a point to drive from her house in Portland to eat dinner with him every night.

“It was a hard choice to make,” she said, about moving her father, Sidney, into the veterans home.

But after he suffered from a fall, then pneumonia, then a stroke and then falling again, Dvilinsky knew she could no longer provide the level of care her father needed.

“I just love the great care he gets here,” she said. “Everybody here is just so wonderful. I am so pleased that I brag about this place all the time.”

Dvilinsky’s experience with the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough is not unique, and now, the organization has received rare recognition for the high level of care it provides to both its long-term and short-term residents.

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living has bestowed its gold quality award on the veterans home, an honor only granted to 31 other such facilities nationwide in the past 20 years. In addition, the Scarborough home is also the first one in Maine to get the gold award.

“The competitive award program highlights select centers across the nation that serve as models of excellence in providing high-quality, long-term and post-acute care,” the American Health Care Association said in a press release.

The gold award means that “we’re basically a role model for the industry,” said Maureen Carland, the administrator at the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough since 2010. “We are very mission-driven and our only goal is caring for those who served.”

The award has special significance this week, when Veterans Day is observed Friday.

“This quality journey has been amazing. It’s really brought the leadership, staff and residents together in ways that we couldn’t have anticipated,” Carland said. “Everyone just came together and embraced this.”

Carland said the veterans home in Scarborough first received a bronze award from the American Health Care Association in 2012 and then a silver in 2014. Reaching the gold award level in just four years is unprecedented, she said.

Everyone from residents to their families to the staff “has a voice in everything we do and we constantly ask, ‘How can we improve things? How do we know what we’re doing is the right thing?’” Carland said.

The Maine Veterans Home network, which consists of six homes across the state, is a separate entity from the federal Veterans Administration, she said, and the network’s funding comes mainly from Medicare and Medicaid.

The Scarborough veterans home, which is one of the largest and most active in Maine, serves 150 residents, some of whom live at the facility on a permanent basis and others who are just there for short-term rehabilitative care and go home when their course of treatment is complete, Carland said.

The home specializes in both pulmonary care and dementia care, and has waiting lists for both its long-term, permanent care slots, as well as for its memory-care program.

She said the Maine Veterans Home system is open to all veterans, whether they completed just one day of active service or made the military their career. In addition, spouses of veterans are also eligible for care, as are Gold Star parents, those who lost a son or daughter while in service to the country.

The faces of the veterans the Scarborough home serves has changed quite a bit in the last few years, Carland said, with more women veterans and more Vietnam-era vets coming through, than those who served in World War II or Korea.

“With the shift from World War II veterans, we are serving a younger population with much different experiences,” she said. “Our expertise comes in understanding the vets and their families and the different types of trauma veterans from different eras may have suffered.”

The veterans home receives most of its referrals from area hospitals and veteran service organizations, she said. The majority of its residents come from Cumberland and York counties, although the Scarborough home is open to veterans from any part of the state.

The daily services offered to residents include physical, speech and occupational therapy, along with 24-7 nursing care from registered nurses, she said.

For permanent residents, Carland said, “this is your home and you make all the decisions, from when you get up to when you eat to what activities you participate in.”

She said residents could have their room painted a different color, their own photos or artwork and their own bedding. In addition, visitors are allowed at all times and family members are also encouraged to attend any of the special programs offered at the veterans home. Dvilinsky, for example, is looking forward to the family Thanksgiving dinner the Scarborough home is offering on Nov. 17.

Along with special events, the days at the facility are filled with a variety of activities from daily poker games, to music programs, to classic movie matinees to religious services on Sunday.

A rotating “cadre of volunteers,” including students at local schools and members various civic organizations, also make regular visits that brighten the days for residents, she said.

“We’re all about engaging the residents in a normal life,” Carland said.

She added that one of the units has asked for a shared dog. The only thing that’s left to be decided is what species of dog to get.

“What’s so great about my job,” she said, “is that I spend my days figuring out, ‘How do I say yes, how do I make this happen?’ It’s about breaking down the barriers and ensuring our residents get what they need, want and desire.”

“So many people think they don’t want to end up in a nursing home, but the fact is they often become more isolated at home. This is a community, this is a real home,” Carland said.

“This is the most amazing place. This is living history. The residents here have done and seen things the rest of us can only imagine. They’ve taken risks for the rest of us.”

Resident Alfred Harmon, 75, served in the Navy from 1958 to 1962. He was a machinist’s mate and served on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic. His favorite port of call, Harmon said, was Jamaica.

“We get treated good here, even the bad characters,” he said with a laugh. “We really help each other out, it’s like a big family.”

Harmon’s favorite activities include playing poker, which is not played for money, and the various music programs offered.

Dot Kilmartin, 84, served with the Marines from 1950 to 1953. She was fully prepared to serve in the Korean War, but said she was never sent overseas, much to the relief of her family.

Kilmartin was one of four siblings. She said her only brother was too young to sign up for the armed services, but that she felt called to serve her country, which is why she entered the Marine Corps.

She said the hardest part of her military service was being away from home during the holidays.

“I came back a changed person, but I got excellent training and never regretted it,” Kilmartin said.

As a result of her service she was also able to attend college on the GI Bill.

She’s lived at the veterans home in Scarborough for the past three years.

“The staff here is wonderful,” she said. “It couldn’t be better. It’s amazing what they will do for us. They’ll take us wherever we want to go. They’re very good to us.”

A closer look

Veterans Day will be celebrated on Friday, Nov. 11. Local celebrations include a parade that kicks off at 10 a.m. in South Portland, and a breakfast at the Bellavita retirement community in Scarborough.

Call 883-3889 to make a reservation for the breakfast, which runs from 8 to 10 a.m., or for more information about the event.

South Portland’s parade will wind down Broadway from the Southern Maine Community College campus to Mill Creek Park where a short ceremony will be held at the veterans monument.

The mission of the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough is to care for those who served. The home recently received a rare honor for the quality of care it provides. Here Maureen Carland, administrator at the veterans home, poses with Dot Kilmartin, 84, who served in the Marine Corps in the early 1950s.

The Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough is one of the largest and most active facilities in the network, which includes six such homes scattered throughout the state.

Jodi Dvilinsky greets her father Sidney, 93, who’s lived at the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough since this past summer. He served in the Army from 1943-1945.


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