TAMPA — The James A. Haley Veteran's Hospital will debut a multimillion-dollar eye clinic today that has more than five times the square footage of the existing, overcrowded facility.
The project brings additional medical services and technicians to veterans with vision troubles, said the clinic's chief, Dr. Nancy Kirk, allowing the VA to treat more patients. Eye injuries are a growing problem as modern medicine allows more troops to survive head traumas, she said.
The $2.3 million, 20,000-square-foot building, located along N 46th Street and off the hospital's main campus, contains 39 exam rooms, compared with 11 at the old clinic. About $1.3 million worth of equipment stocks the rooms, while some of the old tools were "literally held together with duct tape," Kirk said.
Doctors have been seeing patients at the new site for weeks, although the official ribbon cutting is set for today.
Russell Pierce, a 78-year-old Korean War veteran, made his second trip there Tuesday. As he sat in the clinic's spacious waiting room awaiting a shuttle ride to and from the main hospital, Pierce didn't remember the old 1972-vintage facility fondly.
"The waiting room was overcrowded," he said. "So many people … you had to crawl over them practically."
The new facility is 100 percent better, he said.
The new clinic has been the brainchild of Kirk since she began full-time work at the eye clinic six years ago. She pitched the idea to VA administrators, selling the expensive endeavor as a way to improve efficiency and, after some time, save money.
The expansion allows the clinic to hire nine technicians, bringing the total to 15, who can conduct routine examinations. This will ease the workload for doctors, Kirk said, giving them more time to see patients who may have otherwise been directed to other physicians.
Redirecting patients was also expensive, she said, because the VA covers the cost of contract eye exams and the medicare-allowable fees associated with seeing another doctor.
The hospital will save about $600,000 a year by reducing the number of contract eye exams, she said.
The new facility is also host to an advanced low vision rehabilitation program for veterans with poor eyesight, but who are not legally blind.