Health Care

VA works to expand services

As director of the VA Medical Center on East Kellogg, Tom Sanders faces two challenges:

* He's in a 76-year-old building that's tight on space and limited by history.

* The demand for services is growing.

"We're always having to cannibalize our existing space" to meet new needs, Sanders said.

The medical center is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, so it is subject to certain design standards. That limits changes to the exterior, Sanders said.

Construction is under way in the medical center's basement, where space has been gutted and a new prosthetics and orthotics department is being built.

The current department is crowded, Sanders said, and for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, "prosthetics and orthotics is a big part of their needs."

That project, at a cost of $1.8 million, is expected to be complete in June.

Work is to start Thursday on the medical center's nursing home unit. The 40-bed unit will get a facelift, and its two hospice beds will be expanded to eight. That work is budgeted at $618,000 and is expected to be completed in April 2010.

Off campus, the medical center's eye clinics recently moved to leased space at Parklane Shopping Center.

A behavioral health office also will open there, with remodeling work expected to be complete in November. Behavioral health services are another area in which demand has soared as veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, Sanders said.

A dental annex also is planned. The dental clinic needs more space in part because of the VA Medical Center's participation in Wichita State University's graduate dental education residency, which will mean expanded services as well as more space within the building on Kellogg.

The projects are for veterans but benefit all of Wichita, Sanders said, with work for contractors, real estate agents and others.

The VA Medical Center's work force also has grown, Sanders said, going from 600 a couple of years ago to 850 now.

On Sanders' wish list is a new acute-care hospital. Space constraints on the medical center's campus "simply don't allow a modern hospital," he said, so he has proposed to his superiors that one be built on or near McConnell Air Force Base.

The hospital would include an emergency room and surgical suite in "a much smaller building than this." Most services would remain on the East Kellogg campus.

"But we're really talking years down the road," he said.