Within a year the VA clinic currently at Fort Dodge will relocate to the Summerlon development in northeast Dodge City.
Deciding to move the primary care facility was mostly a matter of acquiring more space for the clinic, said Vicki Bondie, the associate director of the clinic.
"We wanted to make sure we were meeting the needs of our patients," she said. "Fort Dodge is a wonderful place and they do a wonderful job, but we needed more space." Parking, in particular, has been limited. The VA clinic has been at Fort Dodge since the late 1990s.
"We're really excited to be able to provide [patients] with a newer facility, something we can use to cater to their needs and make sure they get the care they need," Bondie said.
Currently the clinic serves 1,300 veterans, but includes 4,400 in its coverage area, she said.
Along with the move the clinic will be expanding its "telemed" program, in which healthcare providers can visit patients' homes and consult with specialists through a wireless data connection, "kind of like Skype," Bondie said, or provide mental health services through a computer.
The clinic will also be expanding its staff to provide home-based primary care and social services. Currently the clinic employs two doctors, two registered nurses, two licensed practical nurses and a medical support assistant.
The investment in the clinic is part of an expansion of VA facilities across the state, Bondie said, and an increase in service to veterans for whom it's difficult to get to a clinic. The Fort Dodge clinic is one of a six associated with the large medical center in Wichita that serve west Kansas.
The move will have little effect on the Kansas Soldiers' Home at Fort Dodge, Interim Superintendent Terry Fritz said. While the VA has been an ideal tenant, having a VA clinic on site is not a primary requirement for the state-owned veterans' village.
The Soldiers' Home provides primary care for its assisted living and independent residents, and transportation for more specialized care. Fritz pointed to the Kansas Veterans' Home in Winfield, the other state-operated veterans' community, as an example.
Finding an occupant at the Summerlon building, now an unfilled shell until the contractor and VA reach a design consensus, was a victory for the growing development and Dodge City, developer Greg Gaskill said.
"We are really, really excited, because that's how we [Dodge City] grow," Gaskill said. "For the VA to have faith in us, faith in the area, that's growth."
"It's kind of creating a business and medical center up there" in Summerlon, Gaskill said. "That's what they were attracted to." The Social Security Administration and Western Plains Medical Center have buildings in the same complex, among other healthcare and medical equipment providers.
The design phase could take several months, Gaskill said, but this early into the process there is not an established timeline. Constructing the brick shell, a modern building with an old Dodge City touch (and some panache like the exterior imported tile), was a risk that ultimately paid off.
"You've got to put a shirt on the rack, show some inventory."
Being able to sell what is, rather than what could be on an empty lot, ended up working out for him through the long bidding process, he said.
"They loved the shape and the looks of the building. ... If it works, you look like a genius, but it leaves a lot of time for second thoughts," he joked.
There's an advantage to being able to design the building layout to spec, Bondie said, rather than trying to fit the clinic around an existing blueprint. Once completed, the clinic will contain about 8,000 square feet of floor space.
The Summerlon Circle complex has room for one more building, Gaskill said.
"It's coming along just like we'd hoped."