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Ready to go

By Staff | Dec 4, 2012

A dedication ceremony is planned Friday for the new Lee County Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center, followed by a public open house the next day.

Hosted by the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, the event takes place at 10 a.m. outside of the front entrance to the facility, at 2489 Diplomat Parkway W. A short reception and tours of the center will follow.

Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Jesse, of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is the keynote speaker. Guest speakers will include Suzanne Klinker, director of the Bay Pines health care system, Cape Mayor John Sullivan and Bob Koenig, president of Manhattan Construction.

Participation in Friday’s ceremony and activities is by invitation only.

An open house will be held Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. for the general public.

“This is more of an informal type of event,” Jason Dangel, spokesman for the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, said of Saturday.

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.

“It’s truly an exciting day for the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and the veterans and families we serve,” Dangel said.

The health care system covers about 10 counties. Annually, the system provides care for approximately 100,000 veterans, officials reported.

When the center officially opens for business on Dec. 17, operations will cease at the Fort Myers Veterans Affairs Clinic on Winkler Extension.

“The Fort Myers facility will close after the Lee County Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center opens,” he said, calling it a “seamless process” for vets. “Appointments on Dec. 17 or after, they will be seen at the new facility.”

In 2011, the clinic saw 31,000 veterans with 225,000 appointments.

Four times larger than the clinic, the 220,000-square-foot Cape center is designed for outpatient care; there are no hospital beds or overnight stays.

“This is not a hospital. This is a very large primary care and speciality care outpatient facility,” Dangel said of the new location.

Current services that will be expanded at the facility include:

n Anticoagulation clinic

n Audiology

n Cardiology

n Compensation and pension exams

n Dental

n Dermatology

n Eye care

n Fluoroscopy

n Gastroenterology and endoscopic procedures

n Home and community care

n Mental health

n Neurology

n Nuclear imaging

n Nutrition counseling

n Orthopedics

n Pharmacy consultation and medication pick up

n Phlebotomy

n Podiatry

n Primary care

n Prosthetics

n Rheumatology

n Social work

n Spinal cord injury

n Telephone call center

n Tobacco cessation

n Ultrasound

n Urology

n Women’s care

n X-ray

Special features of the new center include:

n Open floor plan with significant natural lighting

n Energy efficient building management equipment

n Enhanced communication like video conferencing and Telehealth

n Coffee bistro for patients, family and staff

“Just a few years ago, this was a sketch on a paper, just an idea,” Dangel said, adding that he is a veteran himself.

“It’s just an amazing thing to know that we’re providing these types of facilities,” he said. “It’s just a real welcoming environment for everybody.”

According to Dangel, the completed project cost about $80 million.

“It’s a very, very large project,” he said.

The land was purchased 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 accepted possession of the center earlier this year.

“It took several years to complete the project,” Dangel said, adding that changes were made along the way based on today’s health care standards.

“With a project that size, you’re going to have adjustments,” he said.

Dana Brunett, director of the Cape Coral Economic Development Office, called the new facility “kind of the cornerstone for the VIZ area.”

“We want to try and leverage that project into other projects,” he said.

The VIZ, or Veterans Investment Zone, is a corridor of economic development in the Cape that includes Patriot Plaza, Hope Hospice and a new Army Reserve Center that is expected to open some time next year.

The city is looking hard to market the area and bring in new development.

“We’re hoping it (the Lee County Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center) translates into new investments and new job creation,” Brunett said.

“More tax base, more jobs and a better future for Cape Coral,” he said.

Sullivan agreed.

“It should provide the rare opportunity for some serious commercial development in the VIZ and Patriot Plaza, which in turn should create jobs and bring more revenue into the city,” he said.

Sullivan added that the center will give the Cape a great deal of exposure from the standpoint that it will draw veterans and their families to the city.

“It’s also going to be big plus for the veterans,” he said.

Brunett echoed that.

“It puts us on the map for people who don’t normally come to the Cape,” he said, noting that visitors may stop to eat or shop while within the city.

“Even though it’s still local people, it’s good for the community – good for them to see what we offer,” Brunett said.