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Haley VA director personally presents clinic plans to Sun City Center

The main entrance of the VA's South Hillsborough Clinic, currently under construction in Riverview and as depicted in this rendering, is expected to open in the spring of 2019. Courtesy of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital
The main entrance of the VA's South Hillsborough Clinic, currently under construction in Riverview and as depicted in this rendering, is expected to open in the spring of 2019. Courtesy of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital
Published Apr. 5, 2018

SUN CITY CENTER — Blanche Sullivan was undeniably impressed.

Joe Battle, director of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and Clinics, took time out of his busy schedule to drive to Sun City Center and personally facilitate the March 30 town hall meeting regarding the VA's incoming South Hillsborough Clinic.

The facility is under construction in Riverview, near the corner of U.S. 301 and Summerfield Crossing Boulevard and is expected to open in the spring of 2019.

Sullivan, who was present at the meeting inside the Sun City Community Hall along with her husband, Geat Sullivan, an Army retiree, also was struck by Battle's unpretentious, almost folksy presentation. She said his light-hearted manner helped put them and others in the crowd of about 400 at ease during his discussion about the numerous services they can look forward to finding at the 50,000-square-foot complex, which will include 482 spaces for parking.

"He's the real deal," Blanche Sullivan said. "He showed he has compassion for people and taking care of people's needs, especially those of our veterans."

Battle, who introduced himself as a "what you see is what you get" kind of a guy who came from humble beginnings in Alabama, wasted no time in telling the audience he opted to hold another such community get-together because a similar February meeting in Sun City Center failed to meet its intended purpose due to the last-minute unavailability of VA officials.

"If you're wondering why on Good Friday, it's for the people who'll be going back north after Easter," Battle explained.

With the aide of PowerPoint slides, Battle described the clinic's physical layout and defined the amenities it will offer to the more than 4,500 veterans in the Sun City Center community, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

Primary care for both men and women, mental and behavioral treatment, physical therapy, audiology services, radiology, lab, telemedicine and a pharmacy are among them.

A designated physician will be assigned to handle women-care patients. Although there will be no optometry services at the clinic, veterans with eye disorders or diseases will have access to an ophthalmologist.

Users can also expect to be assigned to one of the two Patient Aligned Care Teams for their care, similar to those found at the Haley hospital in Tampa.

"I'm really excited about it because one of the things we're trying to do is to put services in for all our veterans in all our areas," Battle said.

The South Hillsborough facility — equipped to serve about 10,000 veterans every year — will be one of six in Haley's network of VA outpatient clinics that also includes the Primary Care Annex in Tampa, which serves about 30,000 patients annually, as well as treatment centers in Brooksville, Lakeland, New Port Richey and Zephyrhills.

Veterans presently enrolled at the Haley hospital site or other VA clinics who are interested in seeking care at the Riverview clinic will need to inform their primary care providers as soon as possible that they would like their records transferred there. New patients are asked to log onto va.gov/healthbenefits and request enrollment at the SouthShore clinic.

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"It is terrific that they're doing this because I have a tendency to doze while driving so I can't drive to Haley anymore," said Navy Veteran Delmar Ordinachev, a Sun City Center resident who until recently would trek back and forth on his own to the VA hospital in Tampa, more than a 50-mile round trip.

Vietnam Army Veteran Phillip Heaps, a Michigan resident who regularly spends winters in Sun City Center with his wife Linda, is also enrolled at the Haley facility where he receives care for the aftereffects of Agent Orange, a chemical toxin used by the U.S. Military from early 1960s through the mid-1970s.

"Haley has been treating him very well," Linda Heaps said, "so he'd like to keep his enrollment at Haley as well as sign up for services at the new Sun City Center clinic."

Longtime Haley volunteer Mary Ellen Harlan, widow of a Navy pilot, also stood up and spoke out about the need for volunteers at the VA clinic in Riverview.

"You'll be helping your neighbors," said Harlan, who can be reached at (813) 245-5261 for more information.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.