Walls are up, asphalt has been poured and shrubbery is in place as workers are in the home stretch to complete the new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Oakwood, with opening still expected in the spring.
Construction “is following the timeline beautifully” on the 16,000-square-foot Community Based Outpatient Clinic, said David Peters, project manager for the VA.
The $774,000 building, which is on Tanners Creek Drive, off Thurmon Tanner Parkway and just north of H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway, is set to open in April, he said.
Construction could wrap up about six weeks earlier than that, giving the VA time to move operations from the current site off Mundy Mill Road, across from Gainesville State College and at the entrance to Wal-Mart in Oakwood.
A grand opening ceremony could take place a month or so after the opening.
“We want to make sure we have everything working properly before we have the official event,” Peters said.
The VA opened the current 4,500-square-foot clinic in 1999 to relieve overcrowded operations in Decatur. Later, a clinic was opened in Blairsville to take some pressure off the growing Oakwood clinic. In addition to a population surge over the years, the Hall County area has seen a spike in the number of aging veterans who need care.
Also, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are returning home with pressing health care needs.
The clinic now sees about 5,400 patients, with the new one expected to serve up to 6,600. Staffing also will increase across the board to keep up with the rising number of patients.
“We’re also doing something we’ve never done before at any of our clinics,” Peters said. “We’re building a dental clinic. That’s unique to Atlanta.”
Overall, he added, “our goal is to take our services to where the customers are, so instead of having our patients drive from North Georgia to the VA Medical Center (in Decatur), they’ll only have to drive as far as Oakwood.”
Dr. Michael Streleckis, team lead physician at the Oakwood clinic, said in an interview earlier this year that the new clinic will feature “more primary care capacity and more psychiatry capacity, and there also will be rooms set aside for specialists.
“The thought is we’ll have different rotating subspecialists through (such fields as) cardiology, endocrinology and rheumatology, so for our patients who have to see (those doctors), instead of taking the 45-mile drive to Atlanta and back, they can do it here,” Streleckis said.
New services also will include radiology, eye care and an optical shop, as well as women’s wellness and nutrition.
The new clinic has been celebrated by Oakwood officials.
“We think it is indicative of what we’re going to see on Thurmon Tanner Parkway ... and this is recognition that (road) is going to be a major roadway, where we will see development occur,” City Manager Stan Brown has said.
Brent Wood, administrator at the Oakwood, Blairsville and Lawrenceville VA clinics, said during a tour Wednesday at the construction site, “I think it’s in a perfect location for a veterans clinic. You don’t have to hassle with traffic and ... it has a nice-sized parking lot. Most VAs don’t have that kind of parking lot.”