VA mega-clinic in Joliet getting rave reviews
BY BOB OKON email@example.com May 3, 2013 5:36PM
Updated: June 6, 2013 6:27AM
It may be hard to impress Larry “Butch” Santini now that he’s 101 years old. But the World War II veteran was impressed Friday by the new Veterans Affairs mega-clinic in Joliet.
“The first thing you notice about it is it’s big,” said Santini, a Navy veteran who lives in Shorewood.
Santini was among nine local World War II veterans honored during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the clinic.
And he was right about the Joliet Community Based Outpatient Clinic being big. The VA not only calls the 60,000-square-foot facility a “mega-clinic” but says it is its largest outpatient clinic in Illinois.
The clinic opened in March, but Friday’s ceremony gave the VA an opportunity to recognize some of the people instrumental in its creation and the veterans whom it serves.
“This is an emotional day for me because you all know how hard you worked for this,” said Debbie Halvorson, the former one-term congresswoman who in her two years in Washington pushed hard to turn what started as an idea among veterans into reality. By the time she lost her re-election bid in 2010, the government had acquired the former emergency center at Silver Cross Hospital to convert it into the future mega-clinic.
Halvorson’s efforts were notable enough that some of the more than 200 veterans in the audience rose to give her a standing ovation when she was introduced.
“I was your mouthpiece,” Halvorson said, crediting the veterans for making the clinic a reality. “You all started the ball rolling.”
Halvorson’s tireless push for the clinic also was recognized by former U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, another key advocate in Washington for the cause.
“My former colleague, Debbie Halvorson, was like a dog with a bone,” Biggert said. “I think she personally called the VA every day.”
Biggert also recounted some of the history of the clinic’s creation, remembering a fair she visited in the summer of 2008. She met a group of veterans who wanted to talk about an idea they had.
“They had heard about Silver Cross moving to another town,” Biggert said. “They said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could use that hospital for a mega-clinic?’ ‘What a great idea.’ I said, ‘Let’s see what we can do’ ”
Biggert mentioned Jim Canup from Braidwood American Legion Post 39, Mike Meyers from Lockport American Legion Post 18, and the late John Tipton, also from the Lockport post, as a few of the key veterans who led support for the project.
The new Joliet clinic is an expansion of the previous facility on Glenwood Avenue. It is a satellite clinic of the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. Veterans wanted to bring more services to Joliet to save veterans, many of whom are aging or disabled, the often draining drive in congested traffic to Hines, located just outside of Chicago.
The Joliet clinic’s main purpose remains to provide primary care for veterans, Hines director Joan Ricard said. But the new clinic has added specialty services and more will come as the clinic grows.
“One of our missions is to serve all of our veterans,” Ricard told the gathering. “If you know of anyone, please reach out to them and have them sign up.”
The clinic has 5,000 registered patients. The new clinic with additional space already has made it possible to add physical therapy, improve women’s health care, and expand psychiatric and social services. New technology at the clinic also has created tele-health services that allow patients to use audio and visual equipment to visit with specialists at Hines.
What has opened so far is the first phase of the Joliet clinic. The VA plans to continue redevelopment of the facility and add services.
Mary Petrella, a nurse practitioner who started at the Glenwood Avenue clinic when it opened 19 years ago, said the VA at that time had a Joliet staff of three doctors, three nurses and three clerks.
“We’re up to 56 staff members now,” Petrella said. “We have a lot more services. That’s what’s most rewarding.”
Walter Jackson, a World War II Army veteran from Plainfield who was among those recognized during the ceremony, also has been a volunteer for the VA clinic in Joliet since 2001.
Jackson said the VA was able to create a clinic more suited for health care because of the space made available at the Silver Cross building.
“It’s beautiful — just gorgeous,” Jackson said. “Everything is so convenient.”