As completion of the $121 million Veterans Affairs Medical Center approaches, staff members of the current hospital on Loch Raven Boulevard are readying themselves for the move to the complex, scheduled to open in downtown Baltimore next fall.
"We're really excited," says R. David Edwards, chief of voluntary services and public affairs for the hospital. Because the current hospital was built in 1952 for patients with tuberculosis, he says, it is not well suited for patients who need surgical or acute care.
Built of pink-flecked granite, the new seven-story building occupies a city block on Greene Street between Baltimore and Fayette streets. It has 1.3 million square feet of space and three levels of underground parking.
The "H" shaped interior includes two atriums that rise six floors to glass skylights. The design, by RTKL Associates, allows every patient to have a room with a window that either overlooks the city or the atrium. The general contractor is Bethesda-based Hyman Construction.
The building will be the 173rd VA medical center in the country, and its design benefits from the construction of all the other hospitals, according to Richard A. Iafolla, chief of engineering services and the construction coordinator.
"When we solve a problem at one hospital, that information is immediately shared with the others," he says. "Every lesson that has been learned about hospital design, construction and engineering became criteria for this hospital."
The downtown location is expected to be a welcome change for the hospital's staff members, many of whom are also on staff at the University of Maryland. A covered walkway over Baltimore Street will connect the VA center with the third floor of the University of Maryland hospital.
Dr. Stephen Schimpff, executive vice president of the UM Medical System, says the VA center's new location will be a boon to both institutions.
"Our medical students are trained both here and at the Loch Raven VA facility, and they won't have to travel so much," he says. The proximity will also benefit physicians now at Loch Raven, who are also on the faculty of the medical school. Starting in the fall, "interns and residents will be able to do their rotations here and at the VA center, so they'll see different types of patients," he adds.
Schimpff says the university expects the ability to share in use of "a brand new, state-of-the-art hospital" will bring advantages in education, patient care and research.
Robert B. Mekelburg, a director of operations for the UM Medical system, says the two institutions expect "to develop joint service-sharing opportunities and to efficiently utilize technologies" so that they will provide "ultimately the best care for all of our patients."
The new VA center will have 324 beds for acute medical, surgical, neurological and psychiatric patients. Ambulatory care/outpatient service, which already sees 200,000 veterans a year, will also increase. Patients will be admitted and released at one location, and patients' files will be kept in one computer system.
Advanced computer technology will enable participation in the first filmless radiology program in the country, called a Picture Archiving and Communication System (PAC).
Thus, physicians in more than one division can simultaneously call up a patient's complete file, laboratory test results and diagnostic images on computer monitors. Or, staff members in Baltimore can send the images or test results across the country so that physicians can confer with another specialist for a second opinion.
Most importantly, the new system means films cannot be misplaced or lost, Edwards says.
The center will be the only VA hospital in Maryland with Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which allows doctors to get images -- even 3-D -- of the entire body without radiation or intrusive procedures.
The current VA hospital is seeking a lease from a party interested in reopening it after the move as a nursing home, with some beds reserved for veterans, Edwards says.