Home Sweet Home
Innovated nursing center designed to create a community for veterans
BY SUSAN BURGESS
The new Ardie R. Copas State Veterans Nursing Home in Tradition is almost ready to welcome its new residents, thanks to the end of pandemic-induced delays.
The long-awaited milestone, marked recently by an open house at the skilled nursing facility in western Port St. Lucie, gave visitors their first look at an impressive interior and outside patios where men and women can enjoy companionship and activities with their fellow veterans.
It is named after 19-year-old Ardie Ray Copas from Fort Pierce, who died in 1970 protecting four wounded men while they escaped from enemy fire in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Spec. 4 Copas was a machine gunner. His daughter, whom he never had a chance to meet, accepted his Medal of Honor from President Obama in 2014.
“I’m overjoyed that my dad’s name will be remembered in this way,” Shyrell Copas said. “He will continue to be able to help his brother and sister veterans.”
The next step will be to accept resident applications in the fall. Staff hiring is ongoing, with a good response from a late July job fair held at the facility, said Steven Murray, state Department of Veterans’ Affairs Communications Director. COVID-19 previously got in the way of hiring health-care workers because most already had jobs. An administrator, Steven Rule, has been on hand for a few months and the residential admissions coordinator and human resources director have also been hired.
An opening date for the $58 million facility hasn’t been finalized but it will be this fall, Murray said. Residents will be admitted over time, with full residency achieved well into 2022, he said. Staff needed to accommodate the residents will likewise be added as more residents move in. At full occupancy the operation will employ 175 people, boosting the local economy and providing more reasons for people to work here instead of outside the county.
Featuring military colors of shades of tan, blue and crisp white accented with orange, the state-of-the-art home for 120 offers a comfortable, home-like setting inside and out on 28.5 acres. Patios for each of the wings give the residents a place outside where they can read, talk with others or enjoy some time alone in the fresh air. Each patio has raised garden beds for flowers or vegetables – whatever the residents want to grow and/or maintain.
Heroes Hall is the welcome center and community gathering place from which the two large residential wings, each with three halls, extend. Inside the hall, residents can visit the large St. Lucie Room for gatherings and entertainment or look at local memorabilia and art displayed there. They can get a haircut in the salon, eat at the café or draw comfort from the quiet of a peaceful chapel.
Sitting areas with chairs, couches or tables are scattered here and there – in Heroes Hall foyer, between hallways, on patios, making it easy to gab with friends or have more private conversations with family. Fireplaces with electric logs and gracefully curved chimneys soaring upward to high ceilings are welcoming places to relax. Clerestory windows high above illuminate with sunlight.
Special attention to social needs gives the home several options for veterans to engage with others who have similar interests. Rule said there is a common room where people might play cards, a library, big screen television and another section with a fireplace for reading. A cafeteria with long tables allows vets to eat together. The all-stainless steel kitchen gleams with restaurant-size appliances.
Of the 120 beds, 60 are for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Bedrooms are semiprivate with sitting areas, except for six private rooms for very obese patients. Each wing of the home, called neighborhoods, contains 60 beds. Each neighborhood is split into three small wings, each with 20 beds. The concept helps create a sense of community among residents who see each other daily. It also provides a way to give every room a window to the outside.
“It’s just beautiful, not like any other nursing home,” Copas said, right before explaining why the first name of the Ardie R. Copas home is also unique. “You know he wasn’t supposed to be named Ardie, he was supposed to be named Audie, after Audie Murphy, the famous soldier who was also awarded a Medal of Honor. But they made a mistake on his birth certificate and put down Ardie. Funny thing but it happened to me, too. My mother wanted me to be Sheryll, pronounced like Cheryl. But they wrote Shyrell instead.”
The open house in August was an occasion for the family’s first reunion, she said. Her dad’s brother, Richard, her mom, Betsy, and his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, niece and great-nephews all planned to tour the home.
The only one missing was her son, Royce Ray Corbett, who also died at age 19.
“He was so very much like his grandpa,” Copas said. “He wanted to go into the armed services and help people just like his grandpa.”
The new home will primarily serve veterans who are within a 75-mile radius. The nearest state veterans nursing homes are in Pembroke Pines, 100 miles away, and Daytona Beach, 145 miles away, which meant a long journey to visit loved ones, and one that probably couldn’t be made frequently for most families.
The process of getting the nursing home, the eighth in the state, in St. Lucie County started in early 2014 when the county applied to the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs to have the home built in Port St. Lucie. The county rushed to do soil borings and the Tradition Land Co. donated the land. Approval by the state came about six months later in November 2014.
The cost of the project is $58,446,960 with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paying 65% and the state, through the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, paying 35%, Murray said. Ground was broken in March, 2018. Numerous delays plagued the project, capped off by the difficulties of the pandemic.
To inquire about resident admission or staff jobs, call 772.241.6132. The home is at 13000 S.W. Tradition Parkway.
THE MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION
Spec. 4 Ardie R. Copas will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a machine-gunner in Company C, 1st Battalion [Mechanized], 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia on May 12, 1970.
Ardie R. Copas was from Fort Pierce, Fla.
He joined the U.S. Army, June 18, 1969.
For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the republic of Vietnam: Spc.4 Ardie R. Copas distinguished himself while serving as a machine-gunner aboard an armored personnel carrier during operations near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia.
In the early morning hours of May 12, 1970, Copas’ company was suddenly attacked by a large hostile force firing recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, and automatic weapons. After Copas began returning fire, his armored car was struck by an enemy recoilless round, knocking him to the ground and injuring four American Soldiers beside the vehicle. Ignoring his own wounds, Copas quickly remounted the burning vehicle and commenced firing his machine-gun at the belligerents. Braving the hostile fire directed at him, and the possible detonation of the mortar rounds inside the track, Copas maintained a heavy volume of suppressive fire on the foe while the wounded Americans were safely evacuated. Undaunted, he continued to place devastating volleys of fire upon the adversary until he was mortally wounded when another enemy round hit his vehicle.
His daring action resulted in the safe evacuation of his comrades and prevented injury or death to fellow Americans. Copas’ extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Copas received the Distinguished Service Cross [this award will be upgraded to the Medal of Honor on Mar. 18], Bronze Star Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Marksmanship Badge with Auto Rifle Bar, Republic of Vietnam Military Merit Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Device, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm Device, Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal Unit Citation, First Class.