The mission at Fort Dodge has always been one of helping those in need.
The fort was originally constructed shortly after the Civil War as an outpost to protect settlers and travelers along the Santa Fe Trail from attacks by Native American warriors, as well as serving as a  way station for food and desperately-needed water along the arid route. Once the threat of attack had been abated, the fort became a rehabilitation hospital to aid soldiers and the Soldiers Home has been housing and caring for disabled veterans and their eligible dependents since 1890.
Today, the Kansas Soldiers Home at Fort Dodge continues to support veterans and their eligible dependents, and the leadership wants to spread the word about the facility and what it offers those who have served our country.
The Soldiers Home has seen lower census numbers of late because "people simply don't know about us," said superintendent Dave Smith. The facility has beds available at all levels and offers everything from Alzheimer's care to independent living.
"We feel like we're a well-kept secret in southwest Kansas," Smith said. "It's good on one hand because it allows for some privacy, but on the other hand we think some veterans and their families don't know about this viable option they have here."
Among many people even in southwestern Kansas, there seems to be a prevailing belief that Fort Dodge is simply an historic site - a museum, old military artifacts, artillery displays - just another aspect to the tourism of Dodge City and the old west.
For veterans and their eligible dependents, the Soldiers Home is a less-expensive alternative to traditional nursing or assisted-living care. Smith stated that while many long-term care facilities can often cost in excess of $5,000-$7,000 a month or more, the Soldiers Home rate for veterans is just over $2,700, including meals, activities, medications and nursing care.
The independent-living cottages run just over $700 per month, again with nursing visits, meals, maintenance and medications provided.
Smith said the campus has beds for more than 300, but the biggest selling point is the cottage-style homes for assisted- or independent-living patients.
Smith said he and his staff work to allow the veterans who have earned a good quality of life receive it from the facility, not simply in care and housing but also in ensuring that residents are exposed to quality entertainment and activities that bolster mental and physical well-being.
The Soldiers Home receives tremendous support from the community, according to activity director Rosely Garcia. The campus has a large auditorium that sees performances and presentations from schools and organizations throughout the area.
Garcia and staff organize movie nights in the site's resident movie theater, put on regular bingo nights, and set up crafts. She said the staff endeavors to find unique and interesting activities because the facility is home not just to the elderly, but veterans from the most recent military conflicts.
"We've been to most of the concerts at the United Wireless Arena," Garcia said. "We have movie nights and trivia nights and even socials. As I meet the residents I find out what they liked at home and we try to find ways for them to have the experience like they did at home."
Typically the impetus for activity decisions is a luxury of the residents, and Garcia said trips to the Boot Hill Casino and Resort, meals at local restaurants, massive hog roasts, and music and comedy shows are the norm.
"We have the residents decide what they want to do," Smith said, "because we want them involved and interested in the activities. The more active they are the healthier they are."

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