Making progress: Veterans Administration clinic on track for 2012 opening
Lee County’s VA Outpatient Clinic is on schedule to enrich the City of Cape Coral.
Anyone passing by the work site on Diplomat Parkway can see the progress being made on a facility that will help veterans and serve as a major economic force for the surrounding area. So far, construction of the 220,000-square-foot facility is on schedule, said Faith Belcher, spokesperson for the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in St. Petersburg, the administrator for local veteran care.
The Cape Coral clinic will eventually absorb and replace the existing facility in Fort Myers, which hasn’t been able to keep up with the rising veteran population. The building is split into two quadrants — one is two stories and the other is four stories — constructed and overseen by the Naples-based Kraft Construction Inc., awarded the project last November.
“They are on schedule and we’re really excited about the progress Kraft Construction Inc. is making,” said Belcher.
Construction on the building is expected to be finished by the end of 2011, but Belcher said it will be another six months until the clinic is officially open. The VA will take possession of the facility from Kraft and outfit it with furnishings, treatments and equipment.
It’s no secret how the Southwest Florida economy has already benefited from the project. Back in March, Bob Koenig, senior vice president and area manager for Kraft Construction, told the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association that 80 percent of supplies and sub-contractors for the project were procured in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.
And in Lee County alone, the unemployment rate is 13 percent, according to numbers released on Friday.
Belcher said VA officials haven’t decided how they will staff the clinic once it opens for business sometime in 2012.
“At this point we don’t know if we can begin to hire or think about hiring,” said Belcher. “Obviously, we are relocating the current Fort Myers clinic.”
The entire Fort Myers staff will be transferred to Cape Coral, she said, so the VA will later decide whether to hire locally to fill any vacancies created by expansions or additions of new departments.
Some new or expanded programs include: audiology, cardiology with cardiac non-invasive diagnostic services, urology, GI, orthopedics, ophthalmology, dermatology, minor surgery, and advanced imaging including CT, MRI, fluoroscopy, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, mammography and vascular Doppler ultrasound. The clinic also will deal with new and emerging issues, such as mental health care programs for troops diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the VA’s National Center for PTSD, 11-20 percent of veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq show signs of the disorder, and new services will include one-on-one counseling and group therapy visits.
Another unit has also been organized to deal specifically with women’s health care due to more females serving in the military than ever before. One report published by the VA’s Office of Policy and Planning said the number of female veterans has increased from 1.1 million in 1980 to 1.8 million this year. And VA officials expect the population of female veterans to reach 1.9 million by 2020.
Belcher said the VA has no plans to develop the property around the facility once the construction is complete. The clinic could be later be upgraded to offer an emergency room and act as a full-service hospital, but in the meantime it will provide comprehensive services to more than 202,000 local veterans.
Cape Coral Councilmember Kevin McGrail, District 6, said he is excited about how the clinic will impact his district in the northern portion of the city. Initially, the site was zoned for industrial development, but McGrail said city council changed the designation to commercial or pedestrian, opening the area up to commercial activity centers.
“District 6 is going to be the driving force for Cape Coral in the next decade,” he said.
He expects the properties adjacent to the clinic to eventually house restaurants, hotels and shopping centers, all bringing jobs and commerce to Cape Coral and Lee County. Within a decade or more, McGrail said he expects the construction of an I-75 interchange off of Del Prado Boulevard, a project already included in the city’s 20-year plan.
A state-of-the art veterans clinic, developing businesses and a connection to the interstate could all contribute to another explosion of growth in Cape Coral.
But, as with any development, plans are going to be formulated with the input of residents living in north Cape Coral to ensure the rural lifestyle residents sought out isn’t disrupted, McGrail said.