With a consistent reputation as “one of the best cities in the United States,” it is no surprise that Charleston continues to attract those looking for expanding work opportunities, idyllic climates, retirement amenities and the endless lure of the ocean. The appeal has been even greater for aging veterans because South Carolina is also known as a military-friendly state, offering special benefits to those who have served this country. As a result, the Lowcountry veteran population is expected to increase by 3% to 5% annually in the next decade, according to Rick Mahon, facility planner and chief of strategic planning and analysis at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in downtown Charleston.
In response to this projected growth, a new 75,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Veterans Affairs clinic will soon open for business at 6450 Rivers Ave. in North Charleston. The facility will serve the primary care needs of an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 veterans. This site will be closer to and more accessible for the large veteran populations living in Goose Creek, North Charleston, Moncks Corner, Summerville and the area stretching from Myrtle Beach to Hinesville, Georgia.
“Our new North Charleston VA clinic will offer a variety of services, including primary care, women’s health, radiology, dental, specialty care and select mental health to support primary care,” reported Erin Curran, public affairs specialist at Ralph H. Johnson VAMC.
The women’s health clinic, consisting of several dedicated rooms, will address the increasing number of female veterans now seeking health care in the greater Charleston area. Robert Glass, M.D., an internist at Ralph H. Johnson VAMC, is excited about the one-stop care that will be available at the new clinic.
“Urgent or chronic care patients will be able to get their CT scans, ultrasounds, bone density tests, blood tests and similar basic lab procedures done during a single visit. Tele-dermatology and tele-retinal eye care equipment will allow pictures to be taken on-site and then forwarded downtown. The clinic will be able to handle both scheduled appointments and walk-in patients. It will also service all dental needs that were formerly downtown,” he said.
Each of the clinic’s 24 primary care teams will consist of a physician; a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner; a registered nurse; a licensed practical nurse; and an administrative clerk. Wrapped around the teams will be ancillary services, including a social worker, pharmacist and nutritionist.
The new clinic also will be sensitive to those patients struggling with mental health issues. Offering them the care of a compassionate mental health professional will be as easy and immediate as a short stroll across the hall.
With 400 to 500 parking spaces, access to the new VA clinic will be more than adequate. The new facility has room to grow to a maximum capacity of 28,000 patients, according to Mahon.
“While COVID has slowed down construction slightly, the project is on target to be handed over for outfitting in December. From there, it will take a couple of months before we will be ready to have our grand opening. We will make sure the public, and especially our veterans, are well notified.”
As for the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC downtown, its other medical services will remain in place, and freed-up spaces will be renovated for resident teaching in real-life simulation environments. From start to finish, the new VA clinic will have taken more than five years of competing for VA funding, finding property, designing for best practices and watching construction bring dreams to reality. Fortunately for our Lowcountry veterans, the wait is almost over.