By David Templeton
Major upgrades under way for more than a decade at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System facilities are moving forward with the completion of a $75.8 million Consolidation Building on Oakland's University Drive campus.
The building, situated at Brackenridge and Allequippa streets, represents "the new standard in comprehensive, veteran-focused care," according to VA Pittsburgh officials. Key advances include 78 secure, private beds dedicated to psychiatric care in the same building as an outpatient primary-care center to provide greater convenience for veterans.
Completion of the Consolidation Building, which combines three facilities into two, along with upgrades at the H.J. Heinz campus in Aspinwall, will allow VA Pittsburgh to close the Highland Drive campus in Lincoln-Lemington.
A dedication ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. today in the Consolidation Building main lobby with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and VA Undersecretary Robert A. Petzel as the scheduled speakers.
The five-story building, scheduled to open this summer, will offer veterans new audiology and speech pathology sections with a 22-person waiting area, eight handicap-accessible auditory test suites and 13 rooms dedicated to the evaluation and training of speech, language, hearing and swallowing-related impairments.
Three identical inpatient units with a total of 78 beds for psychiatric care include rooms for group and individual therapy and access to three rooftop plazas.
Clinics, services and patients will be moved in phases this spring and summer into the new building.
"Once people get to the new building, they'll like it," said Jeffrey Peters, VA Pittsburgh's associate chief of staff for behavioral health.
"It's been a long journey with many talks with architects and other people to make sure it is safe for patients seeking psychiatric care. Outpatient and education facilities will be state of the art, attractive and energy efficient. We will see what veterans think when they start using it."
Ron Conley, director of Allegheny County Veterans Affairs, said "veterans are going to be well served with modern updated equipment.
"Hopefully it will take care of the needs of veterans in this area and those coming in," he said. "Overall it will be a good thing for veterans."
The one unknown detail, Mr. Conley said, is whether existing facilities can accommodate the growing number of veterans, especially those serving in the National Guard and Reserve, who will return to their homes in this region, rather than to military bases, after their deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan ends.
For the time being, he said, the new facilities should succeed in providing timely care for all veterans.
Last year, Dr. Peters said, 65,000 people used the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, including the three hospital campuses and five outpatient facilities in Beaver, Westmoreland, Fayette and Washington counties and one in Belmont County, Ohio.
Fisher House, where veterans and military families can stay while loved ones are being treated, will be completed before year's end, with a research building scheduled for completion by next spring.
Both on the University Drive campus represent the final projects in the extended project to upgrade VA facilities.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski