Major enhancements to clinics, psychiatric unit at Tuskegee VA hospital

Major enhancements to clinics, psychiatric unit at Tuskegee VA hospital
The new podiatry clinic at the Tuskegee VA Medical Center. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
The new podiatry clinic at the Tuskegee VA Medical Center. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
A room inside the newly expanded High Intensity Psychiatric Unit at the Tuskegee VA Medical Center. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
A room inside the newly expanded High Intensity Psychiatric Unit at the Tuskegee VA Medical Center. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
The High Intensity Psychiatric Unit (Source: WSFA 12 News)
The High Intensity Psychiatric Unit (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

TUSKEGEE, AL (WSFA) - Big improvements have been made in several key areas inside the Tuskegee Veterans Affairs Medical Center in order to give patients a better experience and better care.

The hospital now has a new podiatry clinic and dental clinic, as well as a multi-million dollar addition to the High Intensity Psychiatric Unit.

The Tuskegee VA Medical Center is part of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS), which also includes a hospital on Perry Hill Road in Montgomery and clinics in Dothan, Montgomery, Monroeville, and the Wiregrass in Alabama as well as Columbus and Ft. Benning in Georgia. The facilities provide healthcare to more than 48,000 veterans with a workforce of over 1,600 employees.

"We are so excited to talk about all of the work that our engineers and project managers have done to be able to open up these new units. We have a new podiatry clinic that is all private rooms now so not shared space. It's part of the healing environment model, as well as our new dental clinic. We also have a new $10 million High Intensity Psychiatric Unit," said CAVHCS Associate Director Garth Miller.

"The intent of these units is to create a healing environment and to get away from the more sterile hospital-type of environment and get into a more home-like setting where care is provided," Miller added.

The new Tuskegee Dental Clinic opened in February.  The project was started approximately three years ago.

When the staff moved out of the old clinic on the third floor, they only had five dental units that were in service. There are now a total of 11 chairs in operation.

"We have more than doubled our space. We've more than doubled our capacity. We have computers in the room so that the doctors can instantaneously look at radiographs and put in documentation in medical records whereas before, they had to go back to their office to put the information in or view radiographs," explained Dr. Edward Cathright, CAVHCS Chief of Dental Services.

The old clinic only had one room for x-rays. In the new clinic, the staff has x-ray units available in each of the 11 dental treatment rooms.

"If you had three or four doctors that needed x-rays at the same time, the patients would have to line up in the hallway just to wait for radiographs," Dr. Cathright said.

Another upgrade is a local dental laboratory in the clinic. There are plans to hire some lab technicians. It will speed up the turnaround time for dentures, crowns and bridges to be delivered to patients. It will also enable CAVHCS to end the present lab contract which costs the VA between $500,000 to $700,000 annually.

"Presently, we have to send our work out for the dental laboratory, fabrication of devices that we have to have made. That increases our budget as far costs," Cathright said. "Once we get lab techs here locally, they'll be able to fabricate whatever we need here. It should save us $250,000-$300,000 a year."

There's also a large treatment room, designed especially for handicapped patients.

"We have a lot of patients that we bring over from the nursing home. These patients are non ambulatory. Some are in wheelchairs, others are on gurneys. If a patient is unable to get out of the bed, we can actually wheel them up next to the dental unit and do their dental treatment in the bed if necessary. In the old facility, we didn't have this kind of space," Dr. Cathright added.

New fiber optic hand pieces have just arrived at the dental clinic. The light enhances increases the efficiency of the dentist while providing greater visibility.

"Efficiency has increased. Productivity has increased and the patients and the staff love it," Cathright said.

In the new podiatry clinic, there are private exam rooms. The old clinic was an open bay setting.

Construction on the newly expanded High Intensity Psychiatric Unit took a number of years to complete. The space has 30 beds.

"That is a place where our most vulnerable veterans can pursue recovery in a safe, healing environment," Miller said. "We're very excited by the investment that Congress, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs has made right here in Macon County."

The HIPU (High Intensity Psychiatric Unit) is only for patients referred thereby Mental Health Staff.

The Podiatry and Dental Clinics are both eligibility-based. They also require referrals based upon need and eligibility (tied to Service Connected Disability).

CAVHCS is also getting ready to open the brand new emergency room at the Montgomery VA Medical Center on Perry Hill Road.

The old space on the ground floor was 3,000 square feet. The newly renovated space  on the ground floor is 9,000 square feet.

There will be 18 exams rooms (up from 6) with modernized equipment in the new emergency department. There will be five mental health specialty rooms, two Women's Health specialty rooms, and one Resuscitation room.

"We'll have greater capability to handle emergency situations, to include those for women's health in a very private setting, as well as those of our veterans who are experiencing mental health emergencies," Miller said. "We're very excited by the investment that Congress, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs has made right here in Macon County."

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