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Birchems want W’bago ATC to house veterans

By Staff | Aug 9, 2010

Although the new adolescent treatment center in Winnebago will open later this month, there’s already some interest in the old facility.

Jim and Kathy Birchem, owners of Parker Oaks nursing home in Winnebago, are exploring the possibility of using the building to provide housing for veterans.

Jim Birchem says the idea is in the “very, very preliminary stages.”

Because the building is owned by United Hospital District, Birchem has been discussing his proposal with UHD administrator Jeff Lang.

“We definitely have an interest and are pretty serious in doing this. I think there’s a strong possibility we would try it for at least one year to see how it goes,” he says.

Being a veteran, Birchem says he has always had a strong desire to help others who have served in the military.

“There are a lot of veterans that need help, whether they’re disabled, suffering from mental health issues or homeless,” he says.

For now, Parker Oaks administrator Deb Barnes has been looking at other facilities for veterans to get ideas. She also is exploring funding options to obtain grants to help with start-up costs.

Barnes says she also has been working with Dave Hanson, the veterans service officer for Faribault County.

“The building is there and pretty much turn-key ready. I know there is a realneed for a facility like this in this county,” she says.

Barnes says discussions of a residential facility for veterans began about six months ago when Lang attended a meeting at Parker Oaks.

Hanson’s excited about the thought of having a place where veterans could go and live.

“I know some vets who go from friend to friend to find a place to stay. In the summer some sleep at campgrounds or pitch up a tent,” he says. “I know we would have enough people to fill the facility. That wouldn’t be a problem.”

The current treatment center is located in the Winnebago Hospital that was built in 1952.

The building is nearly 14,000 square feet and in pretty good condition, says Birchem.

“We would have to have 10 to 12 residents to make it work and could have as many as 16,” he says. “The building is in a nice location. I can’t see why it wouldn’t work.”