New VA clinic opens Monday in Greenville

08/16/2013 11:36 PM

08/16/2013 11:46 PM

Adam Jahnke was on patrol with his unit in Al Anbar province when his convoy was hit by an IED.

On his second tour in Iraq, the Marine Corps corporal suffered a traumatic brain injury in the 2006 explosion.

And it wasn’t the first time.

“I was in the infantry doing reconnaissance patrols,” said Jahnke, now 27. “I got blown up a few times in vehicle convoys.”

Along with the brain injury, the Clinton man also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.

Jahnke’s been getting his medical care at the old Veteran’s Administration clinic in Greenville. Other veterans have had to travel to VA facilities Columbia for some services.

But beginning Monday, they can use the new VA clinic in Greenville.

“Any expansion of facilities and services is always good for veterans,” said Jahnke, now finishing up his bachelor’s degree in non-profit management. “I anticipate things will improve with the new place.”

The old clinic on Augusta Road was small and run down, veterans say. And there were sometimes long waits for services. Adequate parking was also an issue.

But the new $3.8 million center, which sits on 3.2 acres on Grove Road near Greenville Memorial Hospital, is clean and bright and at 78,000 square feet, some 20,000 square feet larger than the old one.

Room to grow

The clinic has been evaluated from every angle to ensure the best design, function and flow, said administrative officer Richard Boggan.

And that means waits should be greatly reduced, he said. Officials are shooting for same-day appointments in primary care.

There is room to expand services as well, he said.

“Everything is focused on patient-centered care,” Boggan said. “Getting patients in and making sure they’re getting the care they deserve as veterans.”

Services provided at the old clinic — including primary care, optometry and mental health — will continue. But they will be enhanced with new equipment, more treatment space and additional staff, he said.

“Mental health is a very large department, and we’ve had new gains in staff,” Boggan said. “And because of the number of vets we see, we have an incorporation between primary care and mental health care teams.”

There are enhanced services and dedicated providers for women veterans as well, he said.

Still other services will be added, like prosthetics and telehealth, he said.

The prosthetics department will enable servicemen and women who have lost limbs in battle to be measured, fit and trained to use artificial limbs, which will be made off-site.

A better environment

Down the hall, the new physical therapy room has exercise machines, equipment and therapy tables flanked by a wall of glass — a light and airy environment to foster rehabilitation.

The mental health area has its own waiting room, Boggan said, and veterans have access to a web-based program to refill prescriptions, make appointments and perform many other functions.

And nurses have laptop carts.

A typical exam room is compact, but comfortable, and equipped with a leather chair instead of an examining table. And the chair can be raised and lowered with a remote control and calculate the patient’s weight and BMI, Boggan said

“We want an inviting area for our veterans to come into,” he said.

The clinic sees 18,000 veterans now, but it’s expected that number will grow, Boggan said. It has a staff of about 135, plus some contract workers and volunteers, he said.

The new clinic also has ample parking.

“There will be a little boost in services,” said Maj. Charlie Hall, a support officer with the U.S. Marines’ Wounded Warrior Regiment in Greenville.

“The whole building is state-of-the-art,” Boggan said. “And it starts in the lobby.”

Spacious, sleek and filled with natural light, the lobby is decorated in cool blues and taupes. And the striping designs on the floor reflect oversized service medals that hang overhead from Iraq, Vietnam and other campaigns.

Time for an update

Clinical areas branch off the lobby, he said. And patients whose visits will take 30 minutes or more sit on one side, while those awaiting shorter visits like prescription refills are on the other.

“The other facility had worn its course and served veterans well for over 20 years,” Boggan said. “It was time for an update.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony in the spring of last year, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Mastin Robeson said that having to travel long distances for help is the reason that half of all veterans don’t seek treatment.

“I want to see them get the care they need and for it to be easy for them to get the care they need,” he said then.

“The Upstate of South Carolina is certainly as patriotic and has given as much to the war causes as anyone else in the state, yet they’re the farthest away from VA facilities. So this is huge that the VA has invested in their sacrifice.”

Jason Hyde of Spartanburg spent eight years in the Marine Corps, including two tours in Afghanistan. Being involved in multiple fire fights and witnessing the death of his buddies left him with PTSD.

So the 36-year-old has high hopes for improved care at the new VA clinic.

“It’s a very good idea to have new equipment and a new building,” he said. “With new technology being put in and better services ... it will hopefully help us out in the long run.”

Jahnke said he’s looking forward to shorter wait times and more specialists at the new facility.

Originally planned to open in the spring, the project was delayed a bit to ensure everything was “100 percent ready” for vets, Boggan said.

“We have invested a lot in health care for our veterans,” he said, “and we want them to have the best.”

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