Nurses at Washington Soldiers Home provide a sanctuary for vets

The Washington Nurse wants to provide readers a closer look at local units across the state and the communities they serve. For this issue, we look at Washington Soldiers Home in Orting.

This story was published in the Spring-Summer 2024 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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    WSNA nurses Jennifer Colbert, Janice Pate, and Marjorie McDaniels on the grounds of Washington Soldiers Home.
    Credit: Bobbi Nodell
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    Credit: Bobbi Nodell
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    Credit: Bobbi Nodell
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    Washington Soldiers Home cemetery has gravestones dating back to the Spanish American War in 1898.
    Credit: Bobbi Nodell
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    Credit: Bobbi Nodell
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    Credit: Bobbi Nodell
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    A statue of decorated disabled Vietnam veteran George L. Skypeck and his famous poem, “The Soldier.”
    Credit: Bobbi Nodell

It is easy to miss Washington Soldiers Home in Orting. The veteran’s home is located on a dead end just off the Orting Kapowsin Highway. It is truly a hidden artifact of our nation’s battles.

Washington Soldiers Home—built in 1891—was the first of four homes for veterans in Washington state. The facility is spread out over 174 acres in the Puyallup Valley and includes large grassy fields, a Christmas tree farm, a river, statues, expansive porches, and rows of brick buildings built in a bygone era.

WSNA nurses say they love the residents and being part of this tight-knit community.

“They come alive when they tell stories of the past,” said Marjorie McDaniel of the residents, who has worked here for 13 years.

They come alive when they tell stories of the past.”
— Marjorie McDaniel

McDaniel said the grounds and historic buildings attracted her to the nursing job. When the job becomes stressful, she can just walk outside, be in nature, and feel at peace.

The nursing facility has 97 beds for veterans as well as widows, widowers, spouses of veterans, and Gold Star parents who lost a child in service. The Washington Department of Veterans Affairs also provides transitional housing for homeless vets and leases land to a nonprofit that provides supportive housing at Orting Veterans Village.

The current population is about 90% male, many of whom served in Vietnam. The last WWII soldier at the facility passed away a couple of years ago from COVID-19.

The nursing staff hovers at about 20 people.

Janice Pate, a nurse who was hired in June 2022, works in restorative care, assisting residents with exercise and helping them maintain their remaining function levels. She stated that some residents come six days a week for range-of-motion exercises and to work out on the machines.

“I love the residents,” she said. “Geriatrics is always my first choice.”

Jennifer Colbert, chair of the local WSNA unit, works in investigations, looking into unusual incidents such as falls. She wants to know how an injury could have been prevented, and she loves talking with residents.

For these nurses, Washington Soldiers Home is how long-term care should be provided. It is homey, and its residents have access to many events, including a fishing derby, Fourth of July and Veteran’s Day celebrations, games such as handball, cornhole, and wheelchair basketball, and community building programs like Elder Grow—a gardening program. The facility also has a strong Resident Council that allows members to attend staff exit interviews.

As with all our facilities, WSNA provides these nurses with community, encouragement, information, and representation for wages, benefits, and working conditions during bargaining. Representational rights allow nurses to have a union representative present during investigatory meetings when disciplinary action may result. Nurses also have access to due process through the grievance process. Importantly, nurses have a voice in patient care through enforceable language in the contract.

Washington Soldiers Home may be easy to miss, but once people find it, many never want to leave.