Calhoun County

Calhoun County millage renewal votes put elder healthcare and Veterans services front and center

Maintaining or expanding the capacity to provide medical care for Calhoun County’s elderly population and ensuring that veterans in the county have access to the services they need are the focus of two separate millage renewal proposals on the Aug. 2 ballot.
 
The Calhoun County Medical Care Facility (CCMCF) is seeking a renewal of a .2482-mill levy for the next 10 years and Calhoun County Veterans Affairs (CCVA) is asking for the renewal of a 10-year, 0.10 mill tax. If approved the renewal request for the CCMF would cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 just under $25 per year and the renewal of the CCVA millage would cost $10 per year based on that same taxable value.
 
Leadership with each of these organizations stress that these millage renewal proposals are not increases or new “asks.”
 
“This is not an increase, it’s a renewal of the millage that was first approved over 30 years ago,” says Stephanie Cornish, Administrator of the CCMCF. “The biggest thing for the community to know and understand is that this is not a new millage and the cost is pretty minimal and it’s something people are already paying.”
 
Carol Miller and Patty, her one-year old therapy dog, leave a patient’s room at the Calhoun County Medical Care Facility.
The Veterans Affairs millage was initially approved in 2012, says Aaron Edlefson, Director of the CCVA.
 
Below are additional comments describing the importance of the funds generated by each of these millages and the programs and services they support:
 
Calhoun County Medical Care Facility

Calhoun County Medical Care Facility is a 120-bed skilled nursing care facility that provides both short-term rehabilitation and long-term care to residents who are recovering from conditions such as stroke and surgery before they return home, with some in need of long-term placement for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Cornish says the millage renewal, if approved, will provide just over $1 million in the first year. These are operating funds for the medical care facility, which offers long-term and short-term care to residents of Calhoun County or those in need of care who may live elsewhere but have family living in the county.
 
“In general, the millage is allowing us to continue providing care to residents who have the greatest needs in our community,” Cornish says. “It also allows us to be competitive with the salaries and benefits we offer so we can get the staff we need.”
 
Pre-COVID, Cornish says the facility was typically at maximum capacity.  Post-COVID, she says their capacity is dictated by the number of patients who can be taken care of based on staffing levels.  Currently, their patient count is hovering in the mid-80s.
 
“We are full based on the number of patients we are currently taking care of.  Throughout this entire time we are working with the same patient/staff ratio,” she says.  “We have fewer staff, but we’re still covering the exact same continuum of care as were before for the patients we have.”
 
This is one of several outdoor courtyards at the Calhoun County Medical Care Facility.Of the medical facility’s 150-member staff, 95 percent are full-time.

“CCMCF prides itself in top-notch quality care. Although staffing has proved challenging over the last two years, the facility is proud to continue to maintain the staffing ratios and standards as we have always held. The staff have given their all during these challenging times,” says Beverly Kelly, the CCMCF Millage Renewal Campaign Chair and Marian E. Burch ADC Advisory Board Chair.


It is the highest-rated nursing home in Calhoun County, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Nursing Home, and it is a 5-star rated home. CCMCF is both Medicare and Medicaid certified, providing quality care for county residents, including those who have the greatest financial need.
 
The activity room of the Calhoun County Medical Care Facility can serve for many purposes.“We do have a waiting list and our admission team does a good job of working with families to make sure funding sources will adequately cover their needs,” Cornish says. Medicare and Medicaid are the predominant sources of funds.
 
In addition to the skilled nursing facility, the county medical facility also operates the Marian E. Burch Adult Day Care & Rehabilitation Center, which offers a variety of activities and daycare services for medically challenged individuals who are still living in their own homes.

The Adult Day Care Center has been temporarily closed since March 2020, initially because of pandemic-related concerns and restrictions, but it remains closed as the Medical Care Facility works to fully staff all departments within the Facility, including the Adult Day Care, Cornish says.
 
She says she expects the Adult Day Care facility to re-open in the next few months. Prior to its closure, she says between 45 to 55 clients regularly spent time there. Their attendance varied from five days to one day each week.
 
Sam Gray, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, and Aaron Edlefson, Director, Calhoun County Veterans Affairs, stand in front of military service flags in the organization’s board room.That facility provides programs and services that include a continental breakfast, hot lunch, and assistance with medical needs clients may have.
 
Of the work that the Calhoun County Medical Care Facility does, Cornish says she thinks “for the most part people know what we do, but it also depends on demographics and age and maybe the younger population. If they haven’t had a parent or grandparent or somebody who has visited here, they might not know as much. I think the older population has a better idea because throughout the years they’ve had some sort of experience with us.”
 
Over the course of the 30 years that the millage has been in effect, “It’s something we’ve come to rely on and it has always been there,” she says, “so we depend on that and even if it doesn’t pass, we will continue to provide the quality care that the community has to come to expect from us.”
 
Calhoun County Veterans Affairs
 
There are currently 9,682 veterans in Calhoun County, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Through compensation, pension benefits, and medical care accessed by these veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs spends close to $131 million annually in Calhoun County making the county one with the highest spending per capita in Michigan.

Calhoun County Veterans Affairs helps veterans and their dependents connect with veteran-related benefits. These include claims for federal benefits, state benefits (including the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund), and benefits specifically tailored to Calhoun County such as veterans emergency relief and burial benefits. CCVA also provides referrals to local non-profit agencies, such as Habitat for Humanity to help with building ramps for qualified veterans and presentations by Edlefson regarding veterans' benefits.

The U.S. military oath of enlistment is in the wall in the front room of the Cahoun County Veterans Affairs office on the third floor of the Toeller Building in Battle Creek.Edlefson says that without the almost $400,000 generated annually by the millage, Calhoun County Veterans Affairs would not be able to provide the emergency assistance they have consistently been able to offer. 
 
“We would be able to provide our program, but the funding for the program would be very limited. We’ve never told anyone ‘no’ because we didn’t have funding,” he says. “Over the last five years, we’ve given out about $433,000 in emergency assistance.”
 
The most accessed program focuses on disability benefits. Calhoun County Veterans Affairs is seeing increasing numbers of Vietnam veterans, many of whom are dealing with long-term effects caused by Agent Orange, accessing these benefits, Edlefson says.

“These services are all made possible through support from this millage,” says Chief Petty Officer Samuel A. Gray, United States Navy, Retired, and Chair of the Calhoun County Veterans Affairs Committee.
 
Funds from the Veterans Millage make it possible for the Calhoun County Veterans Affairs office to double the hours that staff work on federal claims assistance, as well as increase outreach and emergency services. CCVA has seen significant increases in requests for service, and this increase is expected to continue due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Edlefson says.
 
Assistance with utilities, vehicle repairs, and home repairs are among other highly sought-after programs and services, Gray says.
 
The lobby of the the Cahoun County Veterans Affairs office in the Toeller Building is welcoming.In recent years, homelessness also has become a major issue being addressed by Calhoun County Veterans Affairs.
 
Although the number of homeless veterans in Calhoun County is not known, as of January 2020, the State of Michigan reported that about 639 veterans were experiencing homelessness statewide on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
 
Gray says he believes that homelessness among veterans can be directly tied to addictions, post-traumatic stress, poor mental health (depression and suicide), and physical disabilities.
 
“We need to continue to advocate and provide services for veterans,” he says.
 
Pre-COVID, the Calhoun County Veterans Affairs was seeing about 1,100 veterans and their family members annually, Edlefson says. There was a decline in these numbers to maintain compliance with state-mandated protocols and guidelines during the pandemic he says but now the CCVA is close to where it was pre-pandemic.
 
“We just implemented a new visitors management system and through the pandemic continued services mostly face to face through virtual meetings,” Edlefson says.
 
The CCVA actively works with community organizations including Habitat for Humanity, the Haven of Rest Ministries, and national organizations like Volunteers of America. These partners, he says, “point veterans to us and it’s all of us putting our heads together to figure out how we can help these veterans.”
 
Asked if proceeds from the renewal, if approved, would be used to fund new initiatives, Gray says, “We continue to look for ways to partner with the community. We partnered with the Calhoun County Red White and Blue Foundation and Talon Out Honor Flights. Our main focus is on veterans and assisting where we can.”
 
These veterans include those who served in military conflicts and those who served in peacetime, something that not all veterans understand, Edlefson says.
 
“The biggest misperception people have is who we can serve.  A lot of people think about veterans of World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and the global war on terror, but a lot of our programming in the last year has opened up to peacetime vets for burials and emergency assistance.”
 
Burial requests for Vietnam veterans are increasing, even though the number of WWII veterans is decreasing, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It also says, “There is an expected increase in service requests from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans.”
 
Gray says the CCVA expects the demand for these services and the others it offers to increase steadily over the next few years.
 
“I've heard people say that we have enough handouts and that these benefits discriminate. These comments are hurtful,” Gray says. “We put our lives on the line for our country and we have earned these benefits.”

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.