ST. PETERSBURG — Army veteran Theodore Vanson contracted polio after the Korean War. The 81-year-old said it stopped some of his mobility, but he was later cured. Now he has regular checkups through the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.
On Thursday, Vanson was walking out the doors of the newly opened clinic at 840 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. He was smiling and quite pleased.
"It's real convenient," he said of the new location. "Lots of parking and it's very clean inside."
The clinic, which opened Tuesday, has 7,000 square feet of space, more than three times the size of the one it replaces at 3420 Eighth Ave. S. That clinic occupied space in the Pinellas Technical Education Center.
A larger facility was needed to better meet the needs of veterans in the area, said Faith Belcher, a spokeswoman for Bay Pines. It was in its old building for 10 years and had outgrown the space, she said.
The clinic is housed in a large beige building, part of which houses a pediatric clinic. It is owned by SIVADD LLC, which is leasing the building to Bay Pines for $196,000 a year for a minimum of three years.
The clinic includes some enhancements, including larger rooms, more privacy and even gender-specific care for female veterans.
It also will provide primary care, mental health treatment, a laboratory, a pharmacist, social services and mental health case management for Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.
The old location saw about 1,200 veterans last year, Belcher said. The new clinic is expected to see about 5,000 veterans a year as demand grows.
The Bay Pines system has nine hospitals with 3,500 employees and treats about 95,000 veterans a year, she said. The new clinic will have about 25 staffers, 10 of whom will focus on mental health among veterans.
Those 10 previously worked at the main Bay Pines Hospital, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., so their move to the new St. Petersburg clinic will benefit veterans, she said.
"We moved them to St. Petersburg to get them closer to the veterans," Belcher said. "It's in closer proximity to the (homeless) shelters, their homes and places veterans often visit."
The clinic has seen a steady flow of people since it opened, and officials expect to see the pace pick up once more people know about it. It will be open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, closed on holidays.
Vanson, who was in the Army from 1948 through 1952, said the old location shared parking with the school, which sometimes made things difficult. So he appreciated the new location's ample parking.
"Uncle Sam's been treating me good over the years," he said. "They still treat me real fine."
A few minutes later William S. Baker, 80, walked out of the clinic after a checkup he has about twice a year. He retired from the Navy in 1955.
"It looks better than the last place," he said, pointing toward the awnings. "And not having to share parking is nice."
Andy Boyle can be reached at (727) 893-8087 or email@example.com.