BROOKSVILLE – Up until recently, some mental health patients at the VA Community Clinic on Cortez Boulevard communicated with psychologists in Tampa via two-way television monitors.
“Obviously, that’s not ideal,” Leonard Orban, chief medical officer at the Brooksville clinic, said Friday.
A second psychologist, Guillermo Cadena, joined the clinic staff last summer, but space was so tight he was relegated to a file room.
Now Cadena, the other psychologist and support staff are seeing patients in a 1,100-square-foot suite in the PineBrook Medical Center. The medical center has housed the clinic for the last 10 years. The mental health division expanded into the suite in November.
The consultations via television are no longer necessary.
“It’s nice to have the whole team together in one space,” Cadena said. And, he added, “It’s more private.”
Officials will celebrate the new space with a ribbon cutting at 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 11.
U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite will be on hand.
The Brooksville Republican pushed for funding for the extra space, as she did for the clinic’s first expansion in 2004, to ensure reasonable wait times for appointments as the county’s veteran population grows.
“The need is there,” Brown-Waite said in an interview last week.
In 2005, the Brooksville clinic had 19,773 visits. That number jumped to 23,909 in 2006 and climbed again to 26,000 last year.
Brown-Waite, whose 5th Congressional District has the second-highest number of veterans of any district in the nation, said “today’s warriors” need to be considered, too.
“We have to remember we have (military personnel) serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and they’ll be coming back and needing services,” she said.
Orban, the PineBrook chief medical officer, said the wait time for appointments is 30 days or less in most cases. Wait times to see a psychologist have dropped in the last two months since the expansion, he said.
In addition to a second psychologist, the clinic also recently added a fourth physician and a nurse case manager. Two more nurses and three additional clerks also will come on board soon, Orban said.
He also hopes to add a third psychologist.
Adding several staff members would have been difficult or impossible without the expansion, he said.
“We were packed to the gills,” Orban said.
The clinic had operated with roughly 8,000 square feet since 2004. Officials limited the most recent expansion to 1,100 square feet so as not to surpass a total square-footage of 10,000.
Expansion beyond that requires Congressional approval and oversight and must be included in the VA’s Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, or CARES, program.
The program, established in 2004, acts as a guide for where the VA will invest in capital projects to provide additional medical services.
It can be a lengthy process, however, and Brown-Waite and other officials wanted to make sure the Brooksville Clinic got at least some extra space as soon as possible.
The Brooksville clinic is one of five community-based clinics under the auspices of James A. Haley Veterans Hospital that provide primary care and behavioral care services so veterans don’t have to travel to Tampa.
The other four clinics are in Zephyrhills, Lakeland, Kissimmee and Sanford.
New Port Richey has a larger outpatient clinic that provides more specialist services than the community clinics. Veterans from Hernando County visit that 40,000-square-foot facility for a full range of primary and mental health care and laboratory services, as well as access to an array of specialist services such as orthopedics, radiology and dermatology.
Brown-Waite said that she fielded many complaints about waiting times at the clinic after she was first elected in 2002.
Now she receives hardly any and said she plans to work with the VA to help it stay that way: Her office is currently compiling data on expected growth in Hernando and surrounding counties that Brown-Waite said will show a need for a new clinic in Brooksville.
It could be as large as 30,000 square feet and built by 2011, she said.
“My job is to convince the CARES Commission of that,” Brown-Waite said. “I think veterans will help me.”
If You Go
WHAT: Ribbon-cutting for the expanded Brooksville VA Community-based Clinic.
WHEN: 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 11.
WHERE: PineBrook Medical Center, 14540 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville.
Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or [email protected]