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New VA medical center in North Las Vegas called ‘crown jewel’

With sparkling floors and spacious hallways decked with a collection of artsy photographs, the long-awaited, billion-dollar Veterans Affairs Medical Center is ready to open in North Las Vegas with the first patients expected Aug. 14, officials said Friday.

It has been dubbed by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki as the "crown jewel" of the nation’s VA health care facilities.

And, it is the first newly constructed VA medical center since the one in West Palm Beach, Fla., opened its doors in 1995, said John Bright, director of the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

"We’re very, very excited," Bright said after a media preview of the six-story building trimmed in muted shades of red, white and blue. The landmark juts from the stark, Mojave Desert floor backed by bare mountains on the Las Vegas Valley’s northern outskirts.

Shinseki and Bright will dedicate the medical center during a ceremony 9:30 a.m. Monday attended by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., with between 700 and 800 members of the public. Inside seating will be limited.

"This is a great reward for me personally," said Bright, who joined the Southern Nevada VA team in 2001 and watched the marquee facility then – the Guy Ambulatory Care Center on Martin Luther King Boulevard – literally crumble with construction defects.

After it was shut down and the effort began in 2003 to find a site and build the new medical center, the local veterans population had to rely on outlying clinics for health care. About 2,000 veterans had to travel to VA facilities in Southern California each year .

"We just couldn’t believe the needs and how we were expected to provide care here. We’ve worked very hard to improve that care over the years," Bright said.

"This is my swan song for better or worse. I can go away at some point very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here, and I certainly have not accomplished this by myself. I’ve had an awful lot of help from an awful lot of people."

The 1-million-square-foot medical center, which includes a connected mental health building, sits on a 151-acre campus built on land donated by the Bureau of Land Management.

Flags representing all 50 states will flank the entrance roadway at 6900 N. Pecos Road, near the Las Vegas Beltway. The U.S. flag, the Nevada flag, the VA flag and the POW/MIA flag will fly outside the main entrance.

Officials anticipate a rolling start to bring the medical center into full operation by January with the first patients and patrons expected when doors open Aug. 14 for the eye clinic, the infectious diseases facility and the pharmacy. The main laboratory will open soon after with specialty care facilities opening by the end of September.

The VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System serves about 46,000 veterans.

When the hospital – with 90 in-patient beds and the 120-bed community living center, or "skilled nursing home care facility" – is open, Bright anticipates his staff will serve about 60,000 veterans out of some 400,000 who live in Nevada.

The cost of building and staffing the medical center with 1,800 health-care professionals and support staff has escalated over the years as the recession hit and the cost of steel rose.

"Construction costs are in the neighborhood of $600 million. By the time you add the equipment and furniture and pay for the staff, we’re going to be bumping up close to $1 billion," Bright said.

The figure includes four primary care clinics that have opened around the Las Vegas Valley and two that will be established in Laughlin and Pahrump.

Officials said privacy will be paramount for veterans at VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas, which will be equipped to meet the needs of vets suffering from traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and those from the Vietnam War who battle the lingering effects of diabetes and cancer from exposure to dioxin-laden defoliants known as Agent Orange.

The new medical center, built by a joint venture of contractors, features a rehabilitation courtyard for blinded vets who require help from service dogs and for amputees who can learn to use ramps for wheelchairs and walk with artificial limbs across a grassy lawn.

"They’re going to learn how to walk under any condition, concrete, grass or inclines," VA tour coordinator Skip Samad said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

 

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