Construction is scheduled to begin Tuesday on a $10 million project at the VA Montana Medical Center at Fort Harrison that is aimed primarily at giving patients more privacy.
The project, which is expected to be complete in December 2015, will transform 12 inpatient, multi-occupancy rooms to 22 single-occupancy rooms for both male and female veterans.
The project includes a new intensive care unit and a pre- and post-anesthesia care unit.
“This project will demonstrate VA Montana’s commitment to personalized, proactive, patient-centered care,” said Johnny Ginnity, acting director of the VA Montana Health Care System.
The private rooms support the VA’s objective of ensuring a healing environment where patients and families come together in a homelike setting, he said.
VA Montana currently has more than 2,000 patients annually who require inpatient services.
Randy Martin, public affairs officer for the VA Montana Health Care System, said the conversion to single-occupancy rooms, the new ICU and pre- and post-anesthesia care unit have nothing to do with reducing wait times for veterans. Wait times pertain to the outpatient services.
A national audit revealed this summer that patients seeking care through the Fort Harrison Veterans Affairs Medical Center outside Helena are waiting an average of 48 days for their first appointment with a primary care doctor — more than three times longer than the department’s goal of 14 days.
Montana’s sites at Fort Harrison and Billings are among about a third of the audited sites that are flagged for further investigation.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the state’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Monday that he is pleased the construction project is moving forward.
Tester added that he will continue to hold the VA accountable for the care it delivers to the nation’s veterans.
When Tester met with Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson in June, he specifically discussed access-to-care issues at the VA.
Veterans seeking care at the VA Medical Center will likely notice some disruptions associated with the project, including closed entrances, relocated staff, newly erected safety barriers and new signage to assist with navigation.
Patients will be notified if the project impedes the VA’s ability to provide care or service and will work individually to ensure proper care is maintained.
The primary contractor is the Colorado Springs-based JE Hurley Construction Inc., which is majority-owned by a service-disabled veteran.
The project will employ more than 30 people, and at least 15 subcontractors are expected to work on the project.