SHERIDAN — The Sheridan Veterans Affairs Medical Center will soon have a new building to serve geriatric patients with psychiatric needs.
Crews broke ground on the new building this fall, but VA officials said the new 15-bed facility won’t be completed until the spring or summer of 2019.
The project has been one in the making for several years. Sean Saltzman, Sheridan VAMC chief engineer, said discussions about the project started about five years ago as officials at the facility discussed patient needs.
“That population is here,” Sheridan VAMC Interim Chief of Mental Health Malinda Fairbanks said. “It’s a need we should provide for so (veterans) can stay as close to home as possible.”
Fairbanks said some veterans served at the facility have complex medical issues that cannot be treated in the inpatient acute psychiatric unit due to limitations required on equipment in that area. The new facility, the only of its kind in the state, will allow for geriatric veterans with health issues like cognitive impairment, psychosis or others to receive treatment with access to devices such as lifts.
The facility will be utilized for short-stay patients, with an emphasis put on case workers communicating with families and veterans about resources and options when the veteran transfers out of the unit.
VA officials said the facility will include approximately 40 staff members working in various disciplines and services.
Construction costs for the new facility are expected to be approximately $8.45 million and the contract was awarded to Faith Enterprises. Design costs came in at $900,000.
Fairbanks and Saltzman said they were able to work with designers to build the facility to meet the needs of its patients. They visited similar units around the region to learn best practices, lessons and things staff at those facilities wish they had done differently.
The new facility will include a Snoezelen room, which features a therapeutic environment to meet a variety of patient needs.
“We’ll be able to alter nearly everything to meet the environmental needs of patients,” Fairbanks said.
The building will also support a upward expansion if the needs arises.
The Sheridan VAMC has seen a number of expansion projects and upgrades in recent years including a domiciliary unit and updates to a residential treatment facility that’s currently underway.
The new and updated facilities blend into the historic nature of the VAMC without copying the design too extensively.
In a time when budget cuts for the Department of Veterans Affairs dominate the news coming out of the agency, the VAMC has continued receiving funding for facility and program updates.
Saltzman said the facility staff puts together proposals for funding that include demonstrable clinical need for the projects, which then go through the department’s capital planning process.
Fairbanks added that the Sheridan VAMC’s focus on mental health is unique in the region, which spans from Oklahoma to northern Montana.
“We have veterans looking for the programs we offer,” Fairbanks said. “…That makes the justification easier.”