Just how old is the current veterans clinic at the University of South Alabama Medical Center campus on Springhill Avenue? Well, it’s been at that location long enough for 62-year-old U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, to be born there.
Byrne aged himself while speaking with other officials at a groundbreaking for the new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic at a site near 4444 Demetropolis Road on Thursday, Aug. 17.
For Byrne, the new building is a long time coming. Work began on it before he was even elected to the office he currently holds.
“This office has been working on this building for 10 years,” Byrne said. “I’ve only been in office four years.”
Roughly 70 percent of the work his office does now is on behalf of veterans in the area and he wouldn’t have it any other way, he said. The new hospital is a small token of gratitude, he added.
“I’m proud to serve veterans because they served us,” Byrne said. “This clinic is a small down payment on what we’re going to do for them.”
Others in attendance spoke specifically of the workload at the current Mobile clinic and how it was taxing to veterans and employees alike. Dr. M. Christopher Saslo, interim director of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, said during fiscal year 2016 the Mobile clinic saw 11,390 unique veterans. Through June of this year, he said, the clinic has already seen 11,000.
“I appreciate the job the staff does,” he said. “The new facility will be a great place to work and serve our nation’s heroes.”
In choosing this site for the proposed 65,000-square-foot facility, the VA dismissed an option to repurpose an old Infirmary Health facility on Knollwood Drive. At the time the VA and USA had discussed a possible increase in rent at the clinic’s current facility. A local realtor, John Toomey III, proposed the abandoned hospital location.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the groundbreaking was an exciting day for Mobile because everyone has been impacted by a veteran in some way.
Dr. Janet L. Henderson, chief medical officer at Veterans Integrated Service Network, said the clinic should be online by spring 2019 and be equipped to serve the more than 10,000 veterans in the Mobile area.
“This facility will add more choice,” she said. “An exciting future awaits us.”
The new clinic will include the following practice areas: primary care, audiology and speech pathology, education, eye clinics, mental health, patient advocacy, radiology, veterans’ service organizations and women’s health.