An expansion of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center's sprawling Long Beach grounds was planned years ago, but it came in a timely fashion, amid wars and rumors of wars ahead.
A spacious Emergency Room and streamlined Outpatient Pharmacy just re- opened in new Building 164, providing free valet parking and constant pedestrian tram service.
Already, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have spiked outpatient care rosters tenfold, inside just six years, with veterans no longer on active duty enrolled for medical and psychological services.
Their Mideast battle scars are both physical and emotional, some noticeable, others invisible.
Numbers of vets from these wars registered for local VA care were only 365 in 2005, but have now passed 11,500 and are climbing. "We have not had a major military operation since Korea," says VA Informational Services Officer Richard Beam. "We are gearing up now."
Vietnam was fought on smaller scale, for different reasons.
The United States presence in the Middle East and Southern Asia may take longer to conclude and thus become even costlier.
To clarify a fundamental fact, few active duty military personnel are ever patients here. The Department of Veterans Affairs is a civilian agency serving needs of ex-service personnel, as opposed to the Department of Defense. The DOD runs branches of the armed forces that send their active duty injured personnel to hospitals.
Spread thin over bleak, blistering desert lands and mountains against fanatical, unforgiving foes, some go back again and again for new tours of duty.
The toll is mental and physical and it compounds--like interest on a risky loan--with each repeat deployment. All are screened on return and an estimated 40 percent have some degree of psychological damage.
This may be full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)) or its early symptoms of it, such as sleep disruption, anxiety, depression, drinking or drug use, violent tendencies and antisocial behavior
Treatment is available, but it is not mandatory. Many decline it. Unlike a common cold, PTSD does not run its course and go away.
The new emergency room and automated pharmacy just opened in one of four new one of four new buildings, closest to Bellflower Boulevard and Seventh Street; three stories of concrete, steel and glass walls with a dramatic, swooping roof line.
"We are able to efficiently use a lot more equipment and technology in here. "Communication among staff is better," Beam said of the 34,500 square-foot ER, far larger and different from its predecessor.
Cubicle-sized private rooms ring the spacious main floor with ranks of desks in the center for nursing and records staff. Each niche room has connections to monitors of every human vital sign. Behind the nursing station, a secluded secondary treatment bay has room for ambulance gurneys bringing new patients in.
If the ER seems oddly bare, there is a reason.
"No paper. Everything is in the computer system," said Beam, recalling bygone times when walls and desks in ERs and ward nursing stations were festooned with clipboards, binders, charts and graphs.
Just 50 yards down the hall, the new pharmacy, a 26,200-square-foot facility is linked to the ER by a pneumatic tube delivery system that can shoot medicines directly there in seconds. This eliminates hand-carrying critical meds and doesn't take personnel away from their stations.
The VA receives few if any violent cases common to civilian trauma centers. However it is where you go if ill or injured, because outpatient clinic doctors are booked with appointments weeks ahead. Symptoms and condition rule how soon one may be seen.
Located around a corner and down a hall from the new pharmacy, the old one that issued 58,032 prescriptions last calendar year was a nightmare. Most patients re-ordered meds by phone or mail to their homes after the first issue, but personal service was an ordeal.
The VA is gearing up for the long Mideast and Central Asia haul and it appears to be just in time, with new diseases endemic to those regions being treated in addition to war's psychological toll, not to mention needs of true old-timers.