New building to help VA and UF

An artist's rendering shows what the new Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center bed tower will look like when it is complete. The building is scheduled to be finished in June 2011.

The Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center was starting to show its age.

Built in the 1960s, the hospital is part of the largest regional VA health system in the country. The North Florida/South Georgia VA Health System had 128,000 unique patients last year, and the growing number has created some problems. Wait times in the emergency room are too long and there are not enough beds, especially for patients in need of psychiatric services, said Bradley Bender, M.D., chief of staff for the health system.

“The current building is really antiquated,” Bender said. “We have four or five patient wards with a single toilet for five people. And it’s not unusual for us to send out three to five psychiatric patients a day that we cannot accommodate in our facility. That is an expense to us, and the service is fragmented.”

To address these needs, the VA is building a new 245,000-square-foot bed tower next to the existing facility on Archer Road. The new space will feature an expanded emergency room and 226 private bedrooms with bathrooms and space for families, including 15 additional beds for psychiatric patients. The building is expected to be complete by June 2011.

The new building and updated equipment will further improve patient care, of course, and it also will benefit the UF faculty, residents and students who work and train there.

For example, more space equals more patients. To handle the increase, the VA is adding new slots for medical residents. Beginning in July 2011, the medical center will take up to 24 additional residents in psychiatry, surgery, anesthesiology, neurology, dermatology, pathology and radiology, Bender says.

“This is a great training environment for students, residents and fellows,” Bender said. “Some of the patients at Shands are too complicated (for students to handle). There is more bread and butter medicine at the VA.”

With connections to all six Health Science Center colleges, the VA actually has more ties to UF than some may realize. About 100 College of Medicine faculty members work at the VA and every medical student rotates through the medical center.

“The VA is a key strategic partner for the College of Medicine and the HSC,” said College of Medicine Dean Michael L. Good, M.D., who served as chief of staff for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System prior to Bender. “Both organizations share the same core missions: patient care, education and research. We work together to help each other achieve excellence in all three areas.”

Another benefit of the VA-UF partnership is the VA’s ability to acquire advanced diagnostic and therapeutic equipment and its longtime use of electronic medical records, Good said.

The partnership with UF helps the VA, too, Bender says. Its affiliation with UF allows the VA get better quality physicians and helps the VA attract new health professionals who train there as students and decide to spend their careers there.

“It’s like a marriage,” Bender said. “We both make each other better.”