Hefner VA’s new $16 million building part of making veterans whole again

Mark Wineka/Salisbury Post   The Hefner VA Medical Center's new 'Mental Health Care Center of Excellence' is a $16 million, 79,000-square-foot facility.
Mark Wineka/Salisbury Post The Hefner VA Medical Center's new 'Mental Health Care Center of Excellence' is a $16 million, 79,000-square-foot facility.

SALISBURY — Hefner VA Medical Center officials cut the ribbon Wednesday morning on a new $16 million, 79,000-square-foot building that’s part of the VA’s Mental Health Center of Excellence.

The three-floor facility — Building 8 — will be used for acute psychiatric patients and combat veteran inpatients dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Ted A. Thomas, one of 12 certified peer support specialists at the Hefner VA, said the Mental Health Center puts its focus on recovery and helping veterans to start thinking about an identity other than their illness — an identity of wellness, hope, purpose and better quality of life.

Mental health patients continue to receive treatment, Thomas said, but more importantly, they will participate in their treatment and create the dialogue of what wellness is for them.

Dr. German Molina, interim associate chief of staff for mental health and behavioral sciences, said the new facility is better configured, more aesthetic and, while built with safety in mind, rooms, floors, and group areas are homier and less institutional.

It features things such as screened-in porches and open floor plans.

Hefner VA Medical Center Director Kaye Green said the Mental Health Center of Excellence is a milestone in the history of the Salisbury campus and what it entails will promote a healing environment for veterans.

“I’m so proud of this new building,” she said.

Green said veterans in need of the VA system’s care have visible wounds “and wounds we don’t see.”

But the invisible wounds are not any less painful, Green said.

In the past fiscal year, the Hefner VA Medical Center saw more than 91,000 veterans. Of those, 18,000 received mental health-related care.

Green said the Hefner VA has hired about 60 additional staff members over the past year, just for mental health care.

The Mental Health Center of Excellence encompasses four projects scheduled to be completed over a three-year period. Altogether, they have a price tag of $27 million.

The four projects:

• Project 1 renovated the first floor of Building 4 (immediately adjacent to Building 8) for outpatient care. It included a new welcome center, and that project was completed in 2012.

• Project 2 included the 79,000-square-foot Building 8, which is dedicated to acute mental health care.

• Project 3 will renovate the second and third floors in Building 4 for outpatient programs. Construction is expected to start on those floors this summer.

• Project 4 will renovate Building 11 for residential care beds. It’s supposed to be ready by fiscal year 2016.

Established in 1953, the Hefner VA Medical Center now has 2,378 employees. The campus covers 155 acres and takes in 1.2 million square feet of facilities, including outpatient clinics in Charlotte, Hickory and Winston-Salem.

The mental health programs include alcohol detoxification, compensated work therapy, a specialized inpatient PTSD unit, a rehabilitation program, sexual trauma counseling, inpatient mental health services, individual and group therapies, mental health clinic and mental health intensive case management.

After 19 years, 138 different groups have gone through the Hefner VA’s specialized inpatient PTSD program, now located on the third floor of the new Building 8 and one of just a few of these kinds of programs in VA medical centers in the country.

The six-week program has 20 members at a time, and patients are referred from several states. Most members in a group are men, though the new floor can serve up to four women, too.

Kimberly, a service dog, is a full-time resident who becomes a friend to each PTSD group going through the program.

Tour groups were taken through the halls and rooms of the new PTSD floor Wednesday. The program used to be housed in Building 4.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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