The 2011 holiday season is rapidly approaching, but in September, local veterans got a glimpse of what should be a very merry Christmas 2012. Their long-anticipated gift? A $95 million dollar Wilmington Multi-Specialty Outpatient Clinic. This VA “Super Clinic” will be about 85,000 square feet (more than eight times larger than the one it will replace and the size of our local Best Buy). It will also provide specialty care currently not available in coastal Carolina. The facility will be located at 1725 Gardner Road, near the Wilmington International Airport, an accessible location with proximity to highways like Interstate 40 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Other benefits of the airport location include ample security and parking.
The clinic is scheduled to open in December 2012, with primary care and mental health services as the first phase. Other specialties such as radiology, podiatry, cardiology, and dentistry will be added later, based on the needs of veterans in the area. Existing employees from the Wilmington and Fayetteville clinics will staff the facility, in addition to other healthcare providers who will be recruited via a nationwide search.
On September 19th, more than 150 veterans, friends and family members attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Wilmington Multi-Specialty Outpatient Clinic. A few weeks after the groundbreaking, I had the opportunity to speak with Ed Drohan, Public Affairs Officer at VA Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC. A retired Air Force veteran, he volunteered at the VA hospital for years via the VFW and other veterans’ organizations. He joined the staff of the medical center in March 2010. Mr. Drohan shared the philosophy behind the VA’s ongoing initiative to increase veterans’ access to high-quality health care:
“In the past, veterans’ hospitals took the approach of ‘We’re here. If you want our healthcare, come to us.’ We’re getting away from that now. We have built a primary care facility in Supply which is currently open and seeing patients. In September, we broke ground for the multi-specialty outpatient clinic in Wilmington. And, last week we broke ground for a community-based outpatient clinic in Goldsboro (which will be similar to Wilmington’s current clinic). Now, our focus is on bringing the VA to the veteran rather than having the veteran come to the VA.”
Drohan explained that the decision to build the “Super Clinic” in Wilmington was based on the demographic of the coastal area (including New Hanover and Brunswick counties) which has a very large concentration of veterans. Access was also a consideration since our area is one of the furthest from the Fayetteville hospital. The Wilmington site provides access to the greatest number of veterans within the shortest distance. Although Wilmington will house the only “Super Clinic” in this part of the state, the Durham VA Medical Center is building a facility in Greenville, NC and the Salisbury VA Medical Center is building a facility in Charlotte and Winston-Salem.
In fact, since 2000, the VA healthcare network has grown from two community-based outpatient clinics to 21 operational facilities throughout the region, including North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. (There are more than 780 VA outpatient clinics throughout the country). Mr. Drohan pointed out that Congressman Mike McIntyre has been a huge supporter of veterans and active duty military; and, as such, he was instrumental in helping the VA to obtain financing for the clinic.
The motto of the VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care System is: “Excellent Service, Earned by Veterans, Delivered Here.” Drohan concluded our interview with that sentiment: “We want people to know that the VA is trying to make it easier for veterans to have access to high-quality healthcare. The new clinic means that veterans in Coastal Carolina no longer have to drive two hours to get the care they need. A lot of our veterans are getting older, and a two-hour drive to see a specialist is a hardship. We are here for the veterans– that’s what we live for. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to get what they earned through their service to our country.”