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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Charleston VAMC opens new VA clinic in Savannah
By Erin Curran, MHA, and Lanelle Strawder, MA, Public Affairs Specialists
Monday, October 31, 2016On Oct. 25, hundreds of Veterans, VA employees, community leaders and Savannah residents gathered at 1170 Shawnee St. to celebrate the grand opening of the new Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic. The event, which was hosted by the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, featured Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter as the keynote speaker and other notable guests, such as Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach, commanders from nearby military installations, and Sonny Dixon, retired legislator and former TV news anchor, who lent his voice and witty personality as the event emcee.
Vietnam-era Veteran Jim Strickland spoke at the event; as a retired health care professional himself, Strickland expects only the highest quality from his health care providers. He described his nearly 20 years of care at the Savannah VA as being part of a family. His personal testimony added a special sentiment to the ceremony and his words were encouraging to the many VA employees in attendance.
"I can't think of a thing to complain about with my care at the Savannah VA Clinic," said Strickland. "We are their Veterans. We are their family. I am not just a face to Dr. Ludlow [Strickland's Savannah VA primary care physician]. He knows my phone number, he knows my wife and he knows me."
Strickland also spoke about the care of one of his dearest friends, Harry Masters. The two met while volunteering at the Savannah VA Clinic and leaned on each other when Masters was diagnosed non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and throughout the disease's progression. Strickland remarked that the care his friend received at the Savannah clinic was pretty powerful to see. There was never a question that it was too much trouble to take care of him until the end. Masters has since passed away, but his wife and son were in the audience to witness the grand opening of the new clinic.
The new 56,000 square foot clinic allows the medical center to expand its primary care, mental health and select specialty care services, and increases the number of health care providers dedicated to serving Savannah Veterans. For the first time, the expanded space will allow VA to accommodate CT scans, audiology and cardiology in the Savannah area, helping reduce Veterans' travel to receive these services. The clinic also includes a special women's health area with a separate waiting room, lactation room and four exams rooms with private on-suite bathrooms.
"We stood right here on this property in April 2015 and held a ground breaking ceremony--how remarkable it is to see what has happened in the last year and a half," said Charleston VAMC Director Scott Isaacks. "We are incredibly honored to continue receiving the trust of our patients to provide their medical care. You have earned this health care benefit and it is our commitment to you--our Veterans--to provide that care with quality, integrity and compassion."
Congressman Carter, who attended last year's groundbreaking ceremony, returned to the site to see the completed clinic at the grand opening ceremony.
"The community support in this area is tremendous for Veterans," said Carter. "The 1st Congressional District is a beautiful place for our Veterans to retire and now we have this new clinic here to serve them. Let's make this the best VA clinic in America!"
During the ceremony, Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic Nurse Manager Susan Robertson recognized three clinic employees who have made it their personal mission to go above and beyond to honor Veterans, continuing to care for some of her patients even after they have passed away. With the families' permission, Kathleen "KT" Aull meticulously and lovingly prepares the Veterans' uniform for their final inspections and resting place. She and two fellow employees use time off the clock to ensure that Veterans are buried in their full dress uniform, paying attention to even the smallest detail.
"It's an involved process, but it is something that is done with absolute respect for the Veteran," Aull says. "For me, there is no greater honor, and it's truly what these Veterans deserve."
Robertson says that Aull's actions are a testament to the commitment Savannah VA employees have to their patients.
The clinic will open to Veteran patients on Monday, Nov. 7.