By PHYLLIS HODGES
Just about two years ago, South Shore veterans were thrilled to learn about the groundbreaking for a new James A. Haley Veterans’ South Hillsborough Outpatient Clinic in Riverview (dubbed SOHI). The big news now is that the clinic is open for business. The clinic began accepting patients on May 21, but opening fanfare for the 50,000-square-foot facility was a week earlier when over 1,000 open house guests toured the complex, met healthcare providers and enjoyed demonstrations and refreshments.
The May 14 ribbon cutting ceremony and reception were held on the clinic grounds with Bill Hodges, Air Force veteran, Haley patient and host of Sun Radio’s Veterans’ Corner radio show, as master of ceremonies. First on the agenda was Presentation of Colors by the Newsome High School JROTC. Following that, US Army Colonel Darrel Katz, retired, led the Pledge of Allegiance; East Bay High School senior Brian Ketchup sang the National Anthem; and Haley Hospital’s Chaplain Patricia Roberts delivered the invocation.
Welcoming the attendees was Joe Battle, who is director of the Haley hospital and clinics in Tampa. Battle is responsible for the management of the hospital’s more than $1 billion budget and more than 5,000 full-time employees.
“We are finally here and excited!” he said as he relayed Haley’s strategic plan. “It is really simple. Our number one goal is that every eligible veteran gets served.” He called the new clinic a major investment as they strive to provide 10,000 veterans in south Hillsborough County with primary care and auxiliary services. To date, over 4,000 have signed up to move their primary care there. The auxiliary services will, of course, be available to all veterans.
Keynote speaker was Lawrence Connell, U.S. Veterans’ Health Administration chief of staff. He is the lead management official for coordinating organizational solutions and operational activities for the Veterans Health Administration, the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system. “There is a lot going on in Washington and all the talk puts veterans at the center. The focus is on quality and safety — that’s not negotiable — and if you hear any talk about privatization, that’s a false narrative,” he said. Connell explained the VA Mission Act of 2018 is expanding and improving veterans’ services, including where to get their healthcare (VA hospitals or private sector). On a personal note, he said his 30 years of military service qualifies him for Tri-Care, but he chooses VA care because studies show it is better or as good as the private care systems.
Congressman Vern Buchanan, who represents Florida’s 16th Congressional District in the State House of Representatives, was on hand, as well, and addressed the audience. “We are all committed to making sure veterans get the highest level of care. It is a benefit they earned,” he said. For Congressman Buchanan, veteran health care is a passionate issue, and he thanked Joe Battle for his leadership in this area. The 16th District, which includes south Hillsborough County, is home to more than 70,000 veterans. Congressman Buchanan serves on the Veterans Administration Committee and recently authored legislation to allow veterans to receive an official ID card. He also introduced legislation to provide greater resources and training for aspiring veteran entrepreneurs.
Services and capabilities to be provided at the South Hillsborough Outpatient Clinic are primary care (including women’s primary care and home-based primary care), radiology (including MRI, CT, ultrasound and x-ray), audiology, dietary, mental health, laboratory, pharmacy, physical medicine & rehab, respiratory therapy, social work, prosthetics, telehealth and podiatry. Patient Advocate and Veterans’ Service officers will also be there.
The clinic is located at 12920 Summerfield Crossing Boulevard in Riverview, just north of Big Bend Road and behind Texas Roadhouse. To entroll as a patient call the Haley Enrollment & Eligibility office at 813-972-2000 Ext. 1710. More information is also available on the website.