The new Charlotte VA Health Care Center won’t open until April. But veterans and other visitors got a sneak peek Wednesday during an open house at the nearly completed building off Tyvola Road west of Interstate 77.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” said Frank Gettys, 72, a Vietnam War veteran. “I’m from Gastonia, and it’s convenient for me. … It’s all brand new. There’s nothing not to like.”
Gettys’ view was repeated by many of the several hundred veterans, spouses and friends who toured the $104 million, five-story brick-and-glass building that has risen on a 35-acre site at West Tyvola Road and Cascade Pointe Boulevard.
“I really like the way it’s set up, with everything in one building,” said Randy Harvell, 69, a Vietnam vet from Bessemer City. Harvell said he often gets health care at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, where he has to walk or drive from one building to another.
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It’s a beautiful facility. … It’s all brand new. There’s nothing not to like.
Frank Gettys, a Vietnam War veteran from Gastonia
Ken Mortimer, the health center’s director, seemed gleeful as he greeted people, walked them to enrollment desks to sign up for Veterans Affairs health care and offered help to anyone with a question.
“It’s great to see our veterans so excited to be here,” said Mortimer, who has been waiting months for construction to finish. “They’re seeing the building for the first time. I’ve heard nothing but good things.”
Kaye Green, director of the Salisbury VA hospital system, welcomed about 200 people in the future physical therapy and rehabilitation area for a town hall-style meeting. She said the new Charlotte health center will have a “soft opening” on April 6 and and a ribbon cutting April 8.
It’s great to see our veterans so excited to be here. … I’ve heard nothing but good things.
Ken Mortimer, director, Charlotte VA Health Care Center
The health center should be “fully up to speed” during the week of April 11, Green said. But she added that some services, including dental care and outpatient surgery, won’t be available immediately.
In response to veterans’ concerns, Green said the Charlotte VA health center plans to offer same-day appointments with primary care doctors and to allow patients to make appointments with specialists before they leave the clinic instead of making them wait for callbacks.
“It’s time to do things in a better way,” she said, to applause from the audience. “We want this facility to be your VA. And we want you to be as proud of it as we are.”
Veterans ask questions
Guests said they appreciated the ample surface parking lot, with more than 1,900 spaces. From there, they walked toward the building of brown brick punctuated by a two-story entrance in a semicircular tower of glass at the corner of the building’s “L” shape.
The entrance, filled with natural light, will have multiple kiosks where veterans can check in electronically. The first floor will have radiology services, a kidney dialysis unit, a pharmacy and a food court. The fifth floor will house same-day surgery, and the middle floors will house clinics for primary care, dentistry, optometry, audiology, dermatology and mental health.
The new Charlotte facility, at 3506 Tyvola Road, is one of the largest VA health centers in the country. It will offer outpatient services only and become home to some of the doctors and nurses who have previously been working at the Charlotte VA health center at 8601 University East Drive.
The University-area clinic will continue to operate on a scaled-down basis, offering primary care. But veterans who need specialty care will be referred to the new health center, which will offer some services – such as dialysis, physical therapy and MRI testing – that have not been available before.
Green reminded veterans that the new center is not a hospital. Veterans who need emergency care or hospitalization will still be directed to the closest VA hospital, in Salisbury.
And that led to the first question at the town hall meeting: Why can’t Charlotte, the largest population center in the state, have a full-fledged VA hospital?
“That question is definitely above my pay grade,” said Green, who explained that even getting the outpatient center was a credit to the region’s congressional delegation, “who really went after appropriating funds.”
For more than an hour and a half, Green, Mortimer and other VA officials answered questions, explaining that they’re working to improve the telephone system so that voicemails don’t go unnoticed and that calls get returned in a timely manner.
“That’s our No. 1 complaint,” Green said. “We’re hiring our own telephone operators in Charlotte. We’re continuing to try to improve.”
In response to other questions, Green said veterans from South Carolina can use the Charlotte health center, that volunteers are being recruited and that Wi-Fi for guests will be available “in the near future,” after it’s arranged for staff.
Officials urged veterans to give them feedback, and Mortimer said he checks the center’s email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – three or four times a day.
Near the meeting’s end, after hearing some complaints about Salisbury and the University-area health center, Ronney Cole, 79, an Air Force veteran from Gastonia, stood to describe his satisfaction with the VA doctor who diagnosed his cancer and oversaw his treatment.
“I have nothing but praise for the VA,” Cole said. And he was greeted with applause.
Charlotte VA Health Care Center
- $104 million construction budget
- 295,000 square feet for clinical use
- 1,930 surface parking spaces
- 17 kidney dialysis chairs
- 2 MRI machines
Veterans can enroll for care at www.explore.va.gov or fill out applications at the Charlotte VA Health Care Center.