"State of the art" and "absolutely magnificent" were phrases used to describe the new Lee County Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center during a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony Friday in northeast Cape Coral.
Federal officials and elected leaders gathered alongside veterans from organizations throughout the region to mark the completion of the facility. The ceremony was followed by a brief reception and tours of the center.
The facility officially opens its doors Dec. 17. At that time, operations will cease at the Fort Myers VA Outpatient Clinic on the Winkler Extension.
Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Jesse, of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, was the ceremony's keynote speaker.
"It does take a lot to make this happen," he said.
Jesse attributed the project's success to those involved and the public. He explained that citizens recognized that veterans protected the country.
"And so richly earned this absolutely magnificent health care," Jesse said.
He anticipated that the facility will serve as a central point.
"It's going to bring a community together," Jesse said.
In working with veterans from different eras, the center represents the government's commitment to serving current and future veterans.
"We're trying to make this health care system more personalized," he said.
The Lee County Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center is part of the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, which serves about 10 counties.
Four times larger than the Fort Myers clinic, the 220,000-square-foot outpatient center cost $53.1 million to build. It offers primary and speciality care. It is not a hospital; there are no hospital beds or overnight stays.
Guest speaker Suzanne Klinker, director of the Bay Pines health care system, said the facility will employ more than 400 professionals - that is approximately 100 more staffers than the current one in Fort Myers.
"Our greatest challenge and greatest opportunity is to build facilities that meet the needs of veterans," she said, adding that they rightfully expect and deserve quality care. "And tomorrow's veterans will expect even more."
She called it the country's time to serve those who served it.
"It is an honor and a privilege," Klinker said. "We will never forget that."
Current services that will be expanded at the new facility include:
* Anticoagulation clinic
* Compensation and pension exams
* Eye care
* Gastroenterology and endoscopic procedures
* Home and community care
* Mental health
* Nuclear imaging
* Nutrition counseling
* Pharmacy consultation and medication pick up
* Primary care
* Social work
* Spinal cord injury
* Telephone call center
* Tobacco cessation
* Women's care
Special features of the new center include:
* Open floor plan with significant natural lighting
* Energy efficient building management equipment
* Enhanced communication like video conferencing and Telehealth
* Coffee bistro for patients, family and staff
Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan also spoke at the dedication. He said the facility will serve the more than 200,000 veterans living in the area.
"This center offers a great deal to the veterans in our region," Sullivan said.
He added that it will also draw development to the city, opening the door to building a campus of complimentary businesses and services in the area.
"We now strive for more commercial development in the vicinity of this facility," Sullivan said, noting the hundreds of acres of undeveloped land.
"It is a great day for the veterans and the city of Cape Coral," he said.
An open house will be held today from noon to 3 p.m. for the public.
Visitors will be given tours of the new center, and select veterans affairs services will be available on site, including health care enrollment assistance and benefits information. Light refreshments will be provided to the public.
The land was bought in 2006, and the design competed three years later. Naples-based Manhattan Construction was awarded the construction contact and the ground breaking ceremony was held on the grounds in January 2010.
Veterans Affairs took possession of the finished center earlier this year.
"This will be a very proud cornerstone of Cape Coral and Lee County," Bob Koenig, president of Manhattan Construction, said Friday in his speech.
"It's state of the art. It's a beautiful facility," he said.