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Airy new VA clinic takes getting used to

After years in cramped quarters, the new office feels like wide open spaces. Patients and staff say they don't mind adapting.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 1, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- The new Veterans Affairs clinic in New Port Richey had everything the new staff could want when it opened a month ago: state of the art equipment, windows in the offices and space, plenty of space.

The only problem, patients and workers say, was kind of funny. The new clinic is roughly four times bigger than the old one, and it was easy to get lost.

"It was a little staggering," said Dr. Wyn Rhys-Jones. "When you have been used to a small box and you get into a crate, it is good.

"It's going to take some getting used to."

The staff says the floodgates opened on the New Port Richey Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic at 9912 Little Road on May 1, their first day in the new building. Now a month into service, they see 300 patients a day and will top 60,000 visits by the end of the year.

Today, a ribbon will be cut at 2 p.m. to symbolize the official opening of the expanded clinic. The old one, up Little Road on Ponderosa Avenue, was about 11,000 square feet. The new one has 40,000 square feet.

Twelve doctors, soon to be 13, and 16 nurses are among the 90 employees and more than 30 volunteers who work at the clinic. Construction costs came in around $900,000. The 15-year lease on the building will cost $558,000 a year. Under one roof now are a new pharmacy, mental health clinic, X-ray facility, laboratory, patient education classes, optometry, podiatry and audiology. Soon it will all be run on a paperless computerized record system.

In the old building, half the departments were in another building, and the administrative wing was in a trailer.

"Everyone takes a deep breath now," said administrative officer Helen Poslusny. "They feel like they can breathe."

During the design of the building, the staff was asked to tell architects what they wanted in their department, Poslusny said. The clinic was laid out so there were large waiting rooms near the doctors' offices and by the pharmacy, and everything was laid out so patients could flow through the building, she said.

Nurses and doctors spent several months before the opening trying to finalize plans to make things work. In the old building, they were within shouting distance. Now there was space to contend with.

Susan Brown, the chief nurse at the clinic, said a lot of work was done after the doors opened, and they feel as if they are now hitting their stride.

"Now that it's kind of coming together, it's feeling better," she said.

And the patients, too, are getting used to the new building.

James Berry, a Korean War Army veteran, said some people will have a hard time remembering where to go and who to see, especially some of the older veterans.

"But that's to be expected," he said. "It's nice."

Charles Poff, a Vietnam War veteran, was getting his glasses checked Wednesday. He said he has been coming to VA clinics since the late 1960s. Compared with other clinics in Florida he has been to, the new clinic is the nicest.

"It's a big improvement," he said. "Glad to see it."

* * *

Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com.

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