ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Liberty County leaders heard an update Thursday on the long-elusive and largely anticipated Hinesville VA clinic project during the Liberty County Planning Workshop on St. Simons Island.
In February, several key players said the project was behind schedule but could not explain why.
Rick Mahon, acting assistant director of the VA Medical Center Charleston, did not shed light on the delays, but he provided some information about the next moves in the project.
“I know everybody wants to know where are we with the new clinic,” he said. “I had to talk with the lawyers and the real estate people before I came today, and they told me to talk in generalities — I’m sure those of you that have been involved in that process will appreciate that — but we hope and intend that in the next 30-45 days, we can really be more definitive in these timelines.”
The location of the new clinic has yet to be finalized, though he said it is expected to be at the corner of Oglethorpe Highway and Memorial Drive in Hinesville.
While Mahon did not refer to the property as such, previous reports indicate the seven-acre site where the former Mills House stood will become home to the clinic.
“The VA will not own this clinic, and the VA will not own this property,” he said. The VA tends to lease spaces for about a 15-year period followed by five one-year leases. Around the 20-year mark, the administration assesses the facility to determine whether it still is needed or requires expansion or upgrades.
Once the contract is awarded to a developer, the developer will purchase the land and build the clinic to accommodate the lease.
Currently, the design is about 30-35 percent complete, but Mahon said a developer likely will be named within the next 30-45 days. Once a developer is awarded, an accompanying architect will complete the designs.
Mahon said a clinic opened a few months ago in a temporary location at 740 E. Gen. Stewart Way, and it offers basic primary care and mental-health services to a capacity of 2,400 unique visitors.
“We’re almost halfway there right now after opening up several months ago,” he said. “We’ve had a number of folks relocate over from our clinic in Savannah. We’ve had some new veterans enroll, which is great — that’s why we’re there in Hinesville. We’ve also had some new veterans relocate from our clinic in Brunswick.”
The process of acquiring patients at a clinic takes a while as veterans select the clinics they will attend, he explained.
The new clinic will have a capacity for 7,200 unique visitors, he said. Once complete, the clinical services anticipated include: primary care; mental health; tele-health services; general radiology and women’s health.
The clinic also is intended to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom as soldiers transition out of the service and is anticipated to enhance local participation between the VA and the Department of Defense.