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Haley VA Medical Center opens polytrauma unit

Rehabilitation counselor Steve Klemz, left, chats Monday with Jay McCarthy, program director of the Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Program at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Rehabilitation counselor Steve Klemz, left, chats Monday with Jay McCarthy, program director of the Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Program at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.

TAMPA — Hoping to provide more comfortable rehabilitation for severely wounded American soldiers, the James A. Haley VA Medical Center on Monday revealed a renovated polytrauma unit offering a more nurturing and healing environment.

Located in the hospital's 5-West wing, it will handle patients with multiple, severe injuries, said Dr. Steven Scott, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation center.

The unit represents major advances in the treatment of war wounded, considering the term "polytrauma" was not used when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began, Scott said.

Haley is home to one of only four such polytrauma units in the country, aimed at dealing with injuries suffered in the contemporary warfare, particularly from improvised explosive devices.

"It will be the finest rehabilitation center in the world," said Dr. Edward Cutolo, chief of staff.

Patients will move June 28 into 14 private rooms.

Each room has a large bathroom, a flat-screen TV and a lift attached to the ceiling that makes it easier and safer to move patients.

"You can relax. Do whatever you want. It's a good thing," said Staff Sgt. Jerry Daniels, 44, who has served 19 years in the Army and Navy but on Monday sat in a wheelchair in the Tampa unit.

In March, a truck ran him off a road in Iraq and his motorcycle crashed. His legs and pelvis were shattered, his groin was severely bruised, his left lung collapsed, his left shoulder broken and his brain bled. In April, he came to the polytrauma unit.

Daniels said he looks forward to the convenience of having his own large room with more space for his family. And he won't have to roll his wheelchair down the hall to get to the bathroom.

Planning for the $6.1 million project began in 2009, after Congress allocated money for projects at the hospital, including expansion and renovation of its polytrauma unit.

Monday's opening was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting but the ward's spot is temporary. The unit will move into its final facility in 2013.

The final stage of the renovation will move the unit in a couple of years to a new facility replacing an existing building north of Temple Terrace.

It will have 66 beds and specialists who help patients with rehabilitation, medicine, psychological needs and re-entering the community.

Haley VA Medical Center opens polytrauma unit 06/20/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 20, 2011 9:46pm]
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