JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Brooksville's clinic opens for business with many more services and convenience for veterans living nearby. It was built in response to sharply rising demand.
BROOKSVILLE - Val Clark scarcely could believe his eyes Monday as he walked into the new entrance of the expanded Brooksville VA Clinic at Pinebrook Regional Medical Center.
"We had a little area upstairs, with one doctor's exam room," Clark, 58, recalled of the original office that opened in 1998. "This is fantastic. They've got a lot more coverages."
Clark, a retired Army first sergeant who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm, peered into the new pharmacology office, then the podiatry exam room. He stopped at the audiology suite.
"I need to schedule an appointment now that we've got it," Clark said, noting that he has been traveling to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa for hearing treatment. "I didn't realize (Brooksville) had it."
About 50 veterans and dignitaries celebrated the official grand opening of the VA clinic Monday. It's nearly triple the size of the one it replaced, at 8,285 square feet, with more services - including mental health, social work and nutrition.
The expansion came in response to growing demand - the clinic expects to log 10,924 patient visits this year, compared with 1,037 when it opened - and after four smaller additions to the former space at the same place.
"My first visit to this clinic, I knew we needed a new one," said Elwood Headley, who became director of the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network in 2002. "We have been at it ever since."
The cause was helped, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite said, when Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi toured the clinic last year at her insistence.
When policymakers can see what they're talking about firsthand, they tend to better understand the need, said Brown-Waite, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
"I'm sure they thought I was complaining. I actually wasn't," she said. "I wanted to increase the size of the clinic so veterans would not have to wait inordinate periods of time. ... This is a great day."
Deborah Millen, the VA nurse who opened the clinic, beamed at her new digs. The days of four staff people in offices about half the size of the new waiting area are over.
"We did the best that we could piecemealing it. Now we have an official, legitimate office," Millen said. "You see what we have now. How can you not be proud of it? ... With each little expansion we do, we're able to give them more. That's what we're here for."
Robert Jagiello, who served six years in the Navy during World War II, said he was thrilled he can use the clinic instead of driving to Tampa.
"It's beautiful, and it's much closer than anything else, especially for a man of 83 years of age who wants to be on the road as little as possible," Jagiello said.
- Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 352 754-6115 or firstname.lastname@example.org