When three new mega-clinics open to patients by spring, they will be the most visible projects in a building blitz by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — 1 million square feet of new health care space in North Carolina.
The VA, enduring its largest scandal over fudging wait times for veterans seeking health care, is undertaking more than $374 million worth of construction projects in North Carolina. While the number of veterans is shrinking in the United States as Korean War and Vietnam War service members age, the VA’s patient load is increasing and nowhere faster than North Carolina, part of the mid-Atlantic region including Virginia and part of West Virginia. In 2010, Congress authorized seven new health care centers, including three in North Carolina: Charlotte, Fayetteville and Kernersville. There’s hopes for a fourth, in Raleigh, says Daniel Hoffman, network director for the region, called VISN 6.
The clinics, which will each employ more than 100 people, will offer everything from dialysis to dental care, MRIs to mental health services, Hoffman says. Fayetteville’s clinic opens this month, followed in the next six months by the other two sites. Overnight care remains available only at North Carolina’s four VA hospitals, in Asheville, Durham, Fayetteville and Salisbury.
“We saw this (growth) coming 10 years ago,” Hoffman says. The mid-Atlantic region was the fastest-growing in the country in the last decade, at twice the pace of the rest of the U.S. due to the large number of veterans in big cities and around Fort Bragg and other military installations. Onslow County, home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, is on track to nearly double its veteran population by 2043.
Last year, more than 12,000 new patients sought care at VA clinics or hospitals in VISN 6 as the department cut through the backlog and care became more convenient at new community clinics. Even so, at Fayetteville’s 75-year-old hospital, veterans wait an average 28 days for examinations, with a lesser backlog at the other three medical centers. The new super clinics are designed to cut wait times and travel. “This really is a dream come true for … all of our veterans,” Hoffman says.