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New veterans' clinic coming to South Carolina

By DIONNE GLEATON | The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C. | Published: August 24, 2019

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center is planning to build a new outpatient clinic in Orangeburg, just one of several construction projects for which the center has $160 million in funding.

"A lessor has been selected for the Orangeburg CBOC (Community-Based Outpatient Clinic). This selection is undergoing legal review before award. The Orangeburg CBOC was approved for 24,000 square feet. The Columbia VA Health Care System currently has $160 million in funding for projects that are in design or construction," said Christopher Zell, chief of engineering at the Dorn VA Medical Center.

Synethia Taylor, facilities planner at the Dorn VA Medical Center, said the clinic is being built for a reason.

"The impetus for development in this community rests on the Columbia VA Health Care System's commitment to veterans in the South Carolina market. The VHA (Veterans Health Administration) continues to transform and, in doing so, provide additional options for veterans to receive care in their communities close to their homes and by individuals that honor their service," Taylor said.

She said that the percentage of VHA enrollees is expected to increase.

"Population growth in the Orangeburg submarket has been projected to decrease in the next 10 years. However, the percentage of enrollees in VHA is projected to steadily grow. Projections from 2013 suggested an overall 49 percent growth in enrollees. This projection means there are approximately 3,410 new enrollees projected in this market.

"There is currently a clinic located in Orangeburg and with the projected growth in veterans utilizing the VHA system for their needs, we have designed a replacement CBOC that will house state-of-the-art equipment and utilize new modalities to provide the veterans with the care they deserve," Taylor said.

The Columbia VA Health Care System hosted a town hall meeting in Orangeburg in July.

It was during a February 2018 forum that the Dorn VA Medical Center announced it was adding an $8.9 million, three-and-a-half deck parking garage with 280 parking spaces, along with two full-time, 15-passenger handicapped-accessible shuttles to move veterans across the center's 93-acre campus as needed.

Zell said, "The parking garage is 90 percent complete and is scheduled to open mid-September. There are currently two shuttles in operation."

The center had also been awarded a 16-suite Fisher House through the Rockville, Maryland-based Fisher House Foundation, or FHF.

Zell said the Columbia VA Health Care System and FHF are currently crafting the site development plan for the project.

"The Fisher House Foundation has notified the Columbia VA Health Care System that it has been approved for development of the Fisher House site on the northwest corner of the campus in calendar year 2020," he said.

The center's remodeling effort also includes the renovation of Building 10, a 20,000-square-foot facility built in 1930, which will be turned into a primary campus.

"The primary care design for Building 10 is complete. Construction advisement is scheduled by the end of September," Zell said, noting that a 7,000-square-foot police headquarters is currently under construction and is anticipated to be complete between October and December of this year.

A Red Coat Ambassador program, which includes employees who are throughout the lobby answering veterans' questions and escorting them to appointments, is also underway.

Jill Bonkowske, program supervisor, said, "The program was implemented in December 2018. Initially we were approved for 10 positions but have since been approved for 20. We have 19 on board and are in the process of hiring for the last position."

She added, "The ambassadors are the first impression of the VA and enhance the veterans' experience in our facility. In the first six months, our ambassadors have walked 5,891,953 steps, or 2,790 miles, while helping 48,239 veterans and visitors."

The center is also providing cardiac intervention services as part of its medical care.

Tanya Henry, acute medicine nurse manager at Dorn VA Medical Center, said the Columbia VA Health Care system was approved for initiation of the Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) program in August 2018.

"We had our first PCA in December 2018. To date, we have successfully completed 37 PCIs, which has saved the facility a significant amount of money by not sending these cases out into the community. We have one interventional cardiologist and there is currently a part-time Department of Defense vascular surgeon on board through the Surgical Service Line," Henry said.

No additional operating rooms have been added to any floors to complete any PCIs because the center currently has two functioning cardiac catheterization laboratories, she said.

Dr. Bernard DeKoning, chief of staff at the center, said that mental health care is also among the services provided at the center.

"Mental health continues to comprise a significant portion of our telehealth services," he said.

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