SPRINGFIELD, Mo. "We ask that you transform this common ground to a sacred place where our nation's warriors might receive honor for their sacrificial service and healing the physical, mental and spiritual wounds."
With that invocation by Chaplain Priscilla Mondt followed by a ribbon-cutting, Springfield's new VA outpatient clinic is now officially open.
A soft opening was held in early December with some patients already being helped at the facility, but Thursday marked the grand opening with a large crowd of veterans lining the main hallway where the ceremony was held with a number of dignitaries including Springfield mayor Ken McClure.
Bringing a Veterans Administration clinic to Springfield was an idea originally brought up in 1984, but the clinic was instead placed at the Mt. Vernon Rehabilitation Center in 1989.
However, as keynote speaker Skye McDougall, the VISN 16 Network Developer explained during the ceremony, planning for a new clinic started eight years ago.
"In 2010, with the possibility of the Mt. Vernon space closing due to funding cuts in the University (of Missouri) at the time, data showed that the veteran population was larger in the Springfield area so locating a clinic here was best for the veterans in this part of the state," McDougall explained.
The need for a larger facility and expanded specialty care led to new clinics being built in both Springfield and Joplin, with the one in south Springfield providing 33,000 more square-feet than Mt. Vernon's facility (68,000 square-feet total) and an additional 69 jobs.
The clinic's services include primary care, mental health, dental, optometry, radiology, sleep labs, prosthetics, and pulmonary functions.
"We hope that this new clinic will make the lives of veterans a little bit better, giving them what they need a little bit easier with access being a little bit simpler," said Dr. Rustom Khouri of the Carnegie Management and Development Corporation.
While Springfield's gain was Mt. Vernon's loss, the contributions of the former VA clinic were not forgotten at Thursday's ceremony.
"We are very grateful for their continued support and know that we could not have accomplished this without the city of Mt. Vernon's involvement," said Kelvin Parks, the VHSO Medical Center Director.
James Collins of Nixa is a 20-year Army Veteran and recipient of three purple hearts in Vietnam. He was one of the many veterans who turned out to get a glimpse of the new facility and he says its open-air feel and high-ceiling skylights allowing sun into the hallways lifted his spirits.
"It's just different because of the lighting," he explained. "Mt. Vernon was old. But here you got all the facilities you need and people sitting in their house, these veterans, they need to get up here and check it out."
Jacqueline Long is the facility planner for the new clinic. It was her job to help the vision become a reality. She was recognized for her 35 years of service to the VA during the ceremony, but she said seeing the clinic finally open meant more to her than the award.
"We should have been here 30 years ago but we're here now," she said of the long journey that began back in the '80's. "It's a great day here in Springfield. We've worked very hard trying to get everything right to take care of veterans. And (I appreciate) just having that opportunity to do my part in taking care of those who took care of me."
The new clinic is is an outpatient facility, not a hospital. The nearest medical centers are in Fayetteville, Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City and Poplar Bluff.