Bio: Bergen, Max (Appreciation - 2018)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Bergen, Zimmerman, Plendl, Zien, Moulton, Hanke, Wilson, Walker

----Source: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram (Eau Clare, WI) 2/01/2018

Bergen, Max (Appreciation - 2018)

Interview by Chris Vetter of the Leader-Telegram Staff

Chippewa Falls – At 94, Max Bergen feels blessed to live in the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls.

Bergen said his wife, Florence, began experiencing problems with dementia and he realized he could no longer care for both of them. So, they moved from their Eau Claire apartment into the 72-bed facility in January 2015.

“I’m so appreciative of this place,” Bergen said. “I’m so grateful they built it close to me. I was fortunate enough to get in here. It’s the best place I could possibly be for the rest of my life.”

Although Florence died last July, Max still sees his three sons on a regular basis, as two live in Chetek and one in Holcombe. He said they definitely wouldn’t see him that often if he was in a different veteran home elsewhere in the state.

The Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls opened in February 2013, and the facility celebrated its five-year anniversary on Thursday.

The 78,000-square-foot facility was built for $20 million, with private, single-bed rooms for its 72 residents. Each room has a private bathroom and shower. The building was constructed using a neighborhood model creating four separate, identical wings with 19 rooms in each wing. The neighborhoodlike campus provides a variety of social opportunities, as well as comprehensive, skilled nursing services.

The facility is at 2175 E. Park Ave., next to the National Guard Armory in the southeast corner of Chippewa Falls.

Dan Zimmerman, secretary for the State Department of Veteran Affairs, said that while the building opened in 2013, planning to make it a reality began in 2001.

“It’s absolutely incredible what we have up here” Zimmerman told a crowd of about 150 spectators. “Chippewa Falls (facility) is a model of how communities are set up in other states.”

Katie Plendl, director of admissions and volunteer services, said that all 72 beds are routinely filled. There is a waiting list of 304 people, including 89 deemed to need care in the near future. The waiting list is estimated at 1.5 years, she said.

There are three veterans’ homes in the state, with the others at King and Union Grove in the southern part of the state.

The Wisconsin Veterans Home of Chippewa Falls has also been dubbed David A. Zien Hall in honor of the former state senator, who was known for pushing veteran issues during his time in the Senate from 1993 to 2006. Zien spoke Thursday about the need for more of these facilities in the state.

“We need another 72-bed facility,” Zien said. “We’ve got the land; we’ve got the infrastructure.”

State Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Town of Seymour, praised the work done in caring for veterans at the home.

“This is an unbelievable home for veterans,” Moulton said. “It would be nice if it were even larger. It is just an outstanding place for veterans.”

Michael Hanke, a former Chippewa Falls councilman, is director of Klein Hall, a veteran housing and recovery program located across the street on the Northern Wisconsin Center grounds.

“Chippewa Falls has become the hub of Chippewa Valley for veterans’ care,” Hanke said.

The home is managed by Health Dimensions Group, Mark Wilson, the commandant at the home, said 224 veterans or their spouses have lived there since it opened.

“I can verify the quality of care,” Wilson said. “I see it every day, and I read about it in the notes of appreciation.”

Wilson said the home has achieved five-star ratings from state and federal inspectors for 3½ years of its operation.

Bergen said he was impressed with the facility when he toured it and doesn’t regret moving there.

“The big thing they say about this place is the care, Bergen said. “What makes it a five-star place is the staff.”

The facility has 140 employees, Plendl said.

The cost to stay at the home has actually dropped since it opened. Daily rates at the Chippewa Falls home is $322, down from $348 per day in 2013. However, the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides $107 per day for each veteran.

The $322 daily cost is a flat rate for members, and includes local phone services, cable, flat-screen TVs in each room, laundry and medical transportation. Many privately-operated nursing homes have a cost range for residents based on resident’s needs, Plendl said.

Eligibility for admission to Chippewa Falls is open to veterans, their spouses and gold-star parents with skilled nursing needs.

Federal dollars paid for 65 percent of the construction costs, Gov. Scott Walker previously said.

Bergen joined the Army in 1943 and became a member of the Army Air Corp, where he served on a bomb squadron and flew over occupied France and Germany. He flew 21 missions but was shot down on the final flight on March 29, 1944.

“We were fortunate. We were survivors,” Bergen said. “We had a superb pilot – he kept the wheels up, and we just slid on the ground. It was kind of marshy ground. All 10 of us survived.”

However, within hours the group was captured. He remained a prisoner of war in Austria 14 months before being freed on May 3,1945. Bergen said all 10 people on the plane survived the war; he is now the last one of them alive.

(This article was given to us by Erdine Payne of Granton.)



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