New Fayetteville VA hospital hopes to speed wait times

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The facility in Fayetteville hopes to slash wait times.

The massive healthcare facility along Raeford Road is what Fayetteville VA director Elizabeth Goolsby calls a "visible commitment to our veterans."

It's been more than a month since the doors opened to veterans for outpatient care, but on Monday, congressional and federal dignitaries ceremoniously opened the new, 259,000 square-foot Fayetteville VA Health Care Center. The center is aimed at addressing key issues surrounding excessive appointment wait times -- access and space.

"This marks progress," Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said. "(But) it's only a drop in the bucket to correct the problems of the past."

Tillis was joined by fellow North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr as well as Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. State Reps. David Price and Renee Ellmers were also in attendance during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Tillis noted that plans for the privately-owned, VA-leased health care facility were sealed seven years ago, and the hope is for veterans to be able to see multiple providers in one day.

Deputy VA secretary Sloan Gibson also reappeared in Fayetteville, a place that has been at the center of his reform mission since 2014. That summer, at the height of the so-called VA scandal, Gibson addressed wait times at the VA Medical Center on Ramsey Street. At the time Fayetteville touted the longest wait times for primary care appointments in the country, and Gibson noted space as a major hindrance.

READ MORE: Acting VA Secretary Gibson visits Fayetteville hospital

Since Gibson's visit, temporary care clinics opened across the Sandhills region to accommodate the growing need, and the HCC opening is expected further decrease primary care wait times that have dropped from 28 to 24 days this year.

But supply and demand will continue to pose a challenge, officials warned Monday.

"Here in the Fayetteville area, the number of veterans receiving care has risen 13 percent in the last two years and 160 percent since 2000," said Gibson. "So you think about when we built the old medical center -- how long that's been and the growth we've seen in the number of veterans coming for care. So we still have work to do."

The old medical center was built approximately 70 years ago, and aimed at meeting the needs of World War I and II veterans. Times and needs have drastically changed, and veterans said progress requires patience.

"When I hear still hear people complaining about things not moving along fast enough, it kind of upsets me," said Harry Olden, a Vietnam Veteran. "You have to understand how long this has been going on."

Officials also said Monday that a contract is in progress to re-open the Emergency Department that shut down in the fall of 2014 because of a contract dispute with doctors.

READ MORE: Fayetteville VA emergency room to temporarily shut down.

Two other similarly sized health care facilities are set to open in Kernersville and Charlotte in February and April, respectively.

For more information on the Fayetteville HCC, visit the official website here.

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