Hefner VA officially opens new 'hoptel,' 'Main Street' and hospice
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY - Dependent on a wheelchair, Donald P. Pressley Sr. has been a resident of the Hefner VA Medical Center for close to three years. So additions such as Building 42's new Main Street - an area that passes easily as both town and park - are welcome to the Vietnam veteran of the Marine Corps. "I mix it up a little bit," Pressley says now of his daily routine. Parked in a wheelchair next to Pressley, James Osborne says his favorite Main Street stop has been the new theater. Overall, he calls the Main Street addition in this old atrium - "beautiful." W.G. "Bill" Hefner VA Medical Center officials in Salisbury held ribbon-cutting ceremonies Wednesday morning for three sections of Building 42 aimed at improving the quality of life and care for veterans, families and staff. The hospital refers to Building 42 as its Community Living Center. The three projects - a new hospice unit, the "Main Street" area and a "hoptel" - cost $8 million and are the first phase to Building 42's Long-term Care Center of Excellence Renovations initiative. Here's a rundown of the new facilities: • The hospice unit includes 12 beds with private rooms and baths. The addition offers well-appointed meditation, family and game rooms. A parlor with a baby grand piano and fireplace, the Carolina Cafe dining area, a separate kitchen area for families, a family suite for overnight stays and outside porches to the rooms, overlooking a pond. The VA hospice's motto is "No One Walks the Path Alone." • Main Street is a reconfiguration of the Building 42 atrium, creating spots for an all-day theater, town hall meeting room, general store, barber shop, wellness center and other shops. It remains in a park-like setting, with benches, landscaping and water features. Veteran residents have their own mayor and council, which will meet in the new town hall. It will also serve as a community gathering place, if needed. • A renovated basement area has been transformed into a six-bed hoptel, It provides overnight lodging for veterans from more than 50 miles away who have scheduled clinical appointments or procedures in Salisbury. The "hoptel," which VA officials acknowledged was a made-up word, offers the veterans a bed, linens, private bath and an evening meal. Wednesday's ribbon-cutting represented an introduction to the community for newly appointed Hefner VA Medical Center Director Kaye Green. It was her third day on the job. Green said she was "astonished" by the Building 42 projects and the vision which created them. Green said her own father spent the last two-and-a-half years of his life in a VA hospital and his last days in VA hospice care. "I would not have had my father anywhere else," she said. Green said the inherent freedom veterans feel in visiting Main Street at their leisure was "a phenomenal concept" and of a magnitude she has not seen previously in the VA system. "This is a beautiful facility," Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson said. He said the VA hospital is increasingly on the cutting edge of medical care for veterans. Having toured the new hospice six months ago during latter stages of its construction, Woodson praised its craftsmanship and warmth. The Hefner VA, established in 1953, sits on 155 acres off Brenner Avenue and employs 2,062 people. Buildings on the campus take in 1.2 million square feet. The Salisbury VA hospital is one of eight medical centers and 20 outpatient clinics in its region of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. In that VISN 6 region are 1.4 million veterans. The VA operates on a $2.5 billion budget in the region, has 13,000 employees, 5,000 researchers and eight medical school affiliations U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the No. 1 role of the federal government is the nation's defense, and the only way to defend the country is to have people serving in the military. The country will never have to return to a military draft, Foxx added, as long as the active military is treated fairly and veterans are taken care of. Foxx said that's what Wednesday was all about - "treating our veterans with respect and giving them the care and services they deserve." Daniel Hoffmann, director of the VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network, noted that the emphasis in the past 10 years - and for the future - has been on outpatient clinics and tele-medicine options for veterans. In his region alone, Hoffmann said, veterans have 30 access points for primary and mental health care. But what Wednesday's ceremony shows is that the VA "has not forgotten those veterans who stay with us," Hoffmann said. He said the Hefner VA continued to raise the bar and set a new standard in that regard. When Building 42 opened in the early 1990s, it was clean and institutional - in line with how hospitals were built and decorated for that day, Hoffman said. What visitors saw Wednesday represented a "true evolution" in the healthcare environment, Hoffmann said.Hoffmann described the hospice addition's design and selection of materials as second to none, providing a comfortable, dignified and welcoming environment for veterans in their final days. Hoffmann promised that "hot on the heels of this project will be the sorely needed parking garage." Securing an open parking space on the Salisbury VA campus is sometimes like winning the lottery, he added. After Wednesday's ribbon-cutting on Main Street, visitors broke out into small groups for guided tours through the hospice and hoptel. Construction on these projects started in November 2010. Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.