FLORENCE, S.C. – Construction will begin soon on a $55.6 million, 105-private room nursing home for veterans in Florence.

S.C. Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. told the Morning News on Thursday that construction on the nursing home probably will be completed in the summer of 2021. The facility will employ approximately 100 people.

The nursing home will be managed by the S.C. Department of Mental Health.

Leatherman said when the federal government approached the state about building nursing homes, the state needed an agency to place the homes under. Without a dedicated veterans’ office, the decision was made to place the homes under the purview of the department of mental health.

Eventually two nursing homes were constructed: one in the upstate region and one in Columbia. There is also one in the Charleston area. Collectively, these facilities provide approximately 500 private rooms for veterans.

He said the idea for the Florence nursing home began when the state department of mental health approached the Joint Bond Review Committee of the South Carolina General Assembly about building an additional nursing home to add an additional 200 beds.

Leatherman chairs the committee.

The department’s original plan was to construct an additional nursing home in Columbia.

“I thought, ‘Well, wait a second, who are you trying to serve?’” Leatherman said.

The department replied that it was trying to serve the veterans, which Leatherman said he appreciated.

He asked about family members living far away who want to visit their loved ones in the nursing homes.

The reply he received was that the loved ones would figure it out. He didn’t like that reply.

Leatherman said he wasn’t going to go along with that plan until the department located the facilities in places with large populations of veterans.

Soon, the department returned with a goal of two new nursing homes with 200 private rooms total: one to be built in Florence and one to be constructed in Cherokee County in the Upstate.

The Florence nursing home will be located behind the Florence National Cemetery on East National Cemetery Road. It will contain 104 private rooms for veterans and recreation and dining space.

“The feds were very particular,” Leatherman said.

He said he offered a site closer to the airport, but the federal government didn’t like the idea of airplane noise bothering veterans.

Leatherman added that some clearing of the site has already begun.

The cost of the facility will be $55.6 million, with approximately half coming from the federal government and half coming from the state. The S.C. Department of Mental Health also is using some of its reserve funds.

During the construction phase, the nursing home is expected to have a $15 million to $20 million impact.

The process of getting bids for construction contracts is well underway, and barring a last-minute protest, construction will soon begin.

Leatherman also said it is very important to him to take care of the veterans who have fought for the freedoms that everyone in the United States currently enjoys.

Since the decision was made to build the Florence facility, the department has approached the bond committee for two more new nursing homes.

Leatherman said the decision would be ultimately up to the department but added that Horry and Sumter counties probably are home to many veterans.

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