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Updated: March 18, 2019 / 2019 Business Leaders of the Year

Kelley Kash, CEO of Maine Veterans' Homes, is changing the culture of housing veterans

Kelley Kash PHOTo / Tim Greenway Kelley Kash, CEO of Maine Veterans' Homes, has overseen upgrades and new construction of a $90 million 138-bed home in Augusta where veterans can live and age with dignity.

Maine Veterans’ Homes, a nonprofit, is building a $90 million, 138-bed home in Augusta.

At his office elsewhere in Augusta, CEO Kelley Kash can literally feel the pace of construction.

“We can feel the tremors over the hill,” he says.

It’s a good metaphor for the impact Kash has had in 12 years leading the organization, which was founded in 1977.

Maine Veterans’ Homes has six veterans’ homes and 600 beds. The new home in Augusta and renovations to sites in South Paris and Bangor illustrate the changes that have swept the industry.

With veterans making up 10% of Maine’s population, and many of those aging, the need for modern housing is pressing. With upgrades to existing homes and the Augusta veterans’ home under construction, Kash’s leadership is making a difference for a large segment of Maine’s population. He is also president of the National Association of State Veterans’ Homes.

“If I could sum up Kelley in one line it would be ‘Service before self,’” says the nonprofit’s chief operating officer, Deb Fournier, who has worked alongside Kash for more than eight years. “That is his core value, through and through. Serving veterans and other people is just part of his fabric. It’s how he leads. It’s who he is.”

A military background with a humanitarian touch

Kash, 60, was the offspring of a marine aviator and moved from place to place. He was born in Texas and went to high school in Ohio. He came to Maine to attend Colby College, which is where he met his wife, Ann.

They now live in the farm house that Ann’s family owned, in Nobleboro.

He spent 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, most recently as a hospital commander in Japan.

He’s not a traditional military leader from the chain-of-command school. He has honed a leadership style that is inclusive and involves a good deal of trust, Fournier says.

“One would think a colonel in the Air Force would have a little of that style, but Kelley really prides himself in working with the senior leaders,” says Fournier. “He’s inclusive. He doesn’t micro-manage. He outlines the goals and trusts his team to come up with a plan.”

Kash brings other nitty-gritty talents to the job as well, in areas of finance and interpreting and using data. He is a mentor and works well with the board.

“He has a nice way of describing complex situations, problems or systems in laymen’s terms,” Fournier says. “I really appreciate that because I’m so engrossed in the work, and he’ll help me translate.”

Small-house design

Maine Veterans’ Homes has locations in Augusta, Caribou, Scarborough, South Paris, Bangor and Machias. The Augusta home will open in 2021.

Under Kash, the veterans’ homes have adapted a “small house” design that’s becoming a widespread trend in the industry. It’s replacing an old model that had an “institutional” feel, Kash says, with long hallways and meals in one common dining hall.

“It was like living in a dorm or a hospital, not like living at home,” Kash says. “Now [the homes are] built around 10- to 12-bed ‘households,’ with private rooms. The old model had one small chair. Now there’s a recliner and desk. The rooms are on the outside of the building.”

Each household has a kitchen, dining room and den. Patients are encouraged to get involved in cooking, if they like. “We make it more home-like,” he says.

At the same time, the new sites are equipped with the latest health care technology, suited for short-stay nursing and rehab, long-term care, memory care and longer-term dementia care.

Coming to the veteran-oriented nonprofit in 2007 was a natural transition, he says. And being a veteran is a prerequisite for the job as CEO of Maine Veterans’ Homes.

“I understand the medical field,” says Kash, whose background was in acute care. “I’ve grown to love long-term care. We build relationships with patients and their families. We go to funerals when a veteran dies.”

“Being a veteran means instant credibility with veterans’ organizations,” he says. “It’s very, very helpful.”

Augusta veterans’ home is under construction

In Augusta, the new veterans’ home will have private rooms with their own bathroom and shower.

“There will be plenty of space for family visits,” he says. “The community center will have a ‘main street’ feel, with a bank, a chapel and a theater. It will have a veterans’ club, like an NCO club. It will have a children’s play area, so you can watch your grandchildren play. We will invite the community in and offer meetings space to veterans’ groups.”

Photo / Tim Greenway
The site of a future $90 million Maine Veterans’ Homes facility in Augusta.

The Augusta home might not have come together without the advocacy of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is a member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. She played a critical role in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ decision to grant $50 million for the construction of the Augusta home.

Collins recently hosted Kash and COO Fournier at her Washington, D.C., office.

“Maine Veterans’ Homes provides veterans with the high-quality care and support they have earned through their service to our country,” Collins said in a news release in February.  “I had a productive conversation with Kelley and Deb about the challenges Maine Veterans’ Homes faces and ways we can work together to solve these issues, ensuring Maine’s veterans continue to receive the health care they deserve.”

Work on the Augusta facility started in January and the site is expected to welcome its first residents in 2021. Cianbro, Maine’s largest construction firm, is managing the project.

Of the cost of $90 million, nearly $50 million came through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The balance will be paid for with Maine Veterans’ Home reserves, loans and a $3 million capital campaign.

The capital campaign “is new for us,” Kash says. “We’ve never done this. But in the past year we’ve brought on a director of development [Josh Scroggins]. It’s a new world and a culture change.”

At the same time, he takes pride in the fact that the Augusta facility will be built without state funding. “We have saved the state money,” Kash says. “Like all other nonprofits, we’ve had to cobble it together.”

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November 7, 2021

Doing great things for Maine's Veterans. I wish there was more affordable housing in the greater Portland area

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