New VA hospital reaches midpoint in construction

October 01, 1990|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

The newest hospital for veterans on the East Coast is going up rapidly and ahead of schedule in downtown Baltimore across the street from the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The nine-story, 324-bed Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center is halfway finished and moving toward an April 1992 completion date. It will cost more than $100 million by the time it admits its first patients about six months after it is completed, officials said.

"We're very excited about moving into our new medical center on Sept. 20, 1992," James Cody, the acting associate director, said. "The next two years are going to go very fast.

"With appropriate space and state-of-the-art equipment, we feel that we'll be able to strengthen our commitment toward excellence in patient care, medical care teaching and research."

The new building has been designated as a replacement for the overcrowded and outmoded Loch Raven VA Medical Center, a 185-bed, acute-care hospital at 3900 Loch Raven Blvd. in north Baltimore. Loch Raven opened as a tuberculosis hospital and research center in 1952.

The downtown hospital is scheduled to open about 20 years after the first effort was made to obtain funding for it. During that time, the project died several times, only to be revived. When it is finished, it will house clinical space and research facilities for the 160,000 patients seen annually at the Loch Raven facility.

The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington wants to turn the Loch Raven site into a nursing home that will guarantee a certain percentage of beds for veterans, according to R. David Edwards, public relations director for Loch Raven and the new medical center.

Feasibility studies and some preliminary negotiations are currently under way, he said.

The functions of two other VA medical centers in Maryland will remain intact, he said.

Fort Howard, a long-term care facility in southeastern Baltimore County, will operate beds for patients with lengthy illnesses and a nursing home for sicker patients. The 700-bed Perry Point hospital in Cecil County, which dates back to 1918, principally will offer psychiatric services.

"The downtown Baltimore VA Medical Center may be one of the last new VA hospitals in the United States because of the limitations now being placed on government spending," Edwards explained.

The new veterans hospital will share staff, expertise and equipment with its neighbor, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and will be connected to it by a sky walkway across West Baltimore street. And, it will serve as a teaching facility for the University of Maryland Medical School.

Besides much-needed space, an increase in beds and state-of-the-art equipment which will include magnetic resonance imaging -- a sophisticated diagnostic tool which makes the body transparent -- the hospital will have a number of architectural innovations. For example:

* Every patient's room will have a window, regardless of its location in the hospital.

The windows in rooms on the periphery of the hospital will provide a view of the busy downtown section. Windows in rooms in the more central parts of the hospital will look down on two atrium areas in the front lobby that will be filled with flowers and plants.

* There will be a 700-car underground parking garage, free to patients. Parking spaces have been so scarce at Loch Raven that patients, at times, have actually fought over them, Edwards said.

In addition, there will be nine new operating rooms as opposed to 3 3/8 at Loch Raven, an expanded psychiatry and substance abuse program and a new emphasis on geriatric research, he said.

A pharmacy and the admission and screening areas will be on the first floor. The clinics will be on the second and third floors.

The downtown center is to be be staffed by more than 1,200 professionals and other workers.

In preparation for the move into the center, hospital director Barbara L. Gallagher has adopted a new slogan, "A Renaissance in Caring."

Gallagher was named the chief executive officer at the Loch Raven VA hospital in January, 1989. Before that, she served 4 1/2 years as director of the Perry Point VA hospital. She was an associate director at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center before coming to Maryland in June, 1985.

Dr. Elizabeth Rogers is to continue to be the chief of the medical staff.

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