Construction starts on VA Mental Health Center | News | Palo Alto Online |


Construction starts on VA Mental Health Center

New Palo Alto facility emphasizes healing, therapeutic design

Work began this week on the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System's new $26 million mental health center, following a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at the Palo Alto VA campus.

The center is the first of several projects outlined in a $750 million, five-year reconstruction of the Palo Alto VA.

Designs for the mental health center emphasize creating a healing environment through use of natural lighting, landscaping and other "therapeutic" design elements, officials said Wednesday.

"This groundbreaking is groundbreaking in terms of what is going to be built here," U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo said. "When they enter the doors, everything there will be about healing them."

Patients will have views of landscaped areas from their bedrooms, and there will be convenient access to outdoor spaces. Such features are an effort to respond to patients' needs for comfort, according to Christine Coffin, senior architect/planner at The Design Partnership, which developed the design in consultation with clinicians.

The center will consolidate all Palo Alto VA inpatient mental-health beds, which are currently housed in three separate locations on two campuses, said Kerri Childress, director of communications for Palo Alto VA.

The center will replace one of the most seismically unstable buildings in the VA system, according to Childress. During the estimated two-year construction, the old building will remain operational. Following completion, the building will be razed and replaced with parking.

Other projects in the Palo Alto VA reconstruction include a new ambulatory-care center, polytrauma and blind rehabilitation center, and aquatic therapy and gym facilities.

The 80-bed mental-health center will be divided into four 20-bed units and includes public and private spaces. The center will feature both private and semi-private rooms, all with private bathrooms. The single-floor structure has 76,000 square feet of interior space.

"It was important to make it a single-story structure because of the patient population," Jason Nietupski, facilities manager for the Palo Alto VA, said. By utilizing the one-story design, all patients will have immediate access to outdoor spaces and courtrooms from the interior.

"What we're (also) looking for is a way to turn the building into a better tool for the staff," Coffin said. The design "makes things very visible so the staff can see what's going on at all times." The four units have identical floor plans to aid staff in navigating the facility, Coffin said.

The design's emphasis on healing follows a recovery model of inpatient psychiatry, which supports the belief that people can recover from mental duress and live productive lives.

"Recovery is the new model in mental health," said Dr. Bradley Karlin, associate chief consultant of psychotherapy and psychogeriatrics for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Karlin said the new center is innovative in its adoption of this model, as recovery has not been emphasized in the development of other facilities.

"It will be a model, emblematic of what should be done," Karlin said. "I think we'll learn a lot from the experience."

Construction of the center is estimated to take two years, Nietupski said, with an opening date in 2011.

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1 person likes this
Posted by jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 2, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Anyone notice the lack of complaints about this hospital expansion vs. Stanford's? Granted, the expansion is not on the same scale. Also notice that the city did not try to squeeze anything from the VA to mitigate anything. And, finally notice how smoothly this process went from announcement to ground breaking (approx. one year since it appeared in the Weekly) with the city out of the process.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 5, 2009 at 2:37 am

Can't compare the two. The VA is totally non-profit and serves an underserved population. Stanford psychiatry won't take outpatients on public assistance, has no policy for helping those with inability to pay, and is not easily accessible to those using public transportation. Stanford overwhelmingly serves a well-insured or wealthy population only.

Additionally, the VA building is not an expansion -- it is a consolidation of existing resources. Note that the building it is replacing will be torn down and the space used for parking.

Stanford wants Palo Alto to provide the housing for its increased workforce even though it has plenty of land to provide the low-income housing. It also puts a greater strain on traffic and city resources.

1 person likes this
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 5, 2009 at 11:15 am

I think the city leaders knew they could not extort money from the US government for an expansion of the VA Hospital. Stanford, however, is a private institution, so the council's eyes lit up with dollar signs.
Of course, they could not get away with this from a private company--they would just say goodbye.

1 person likes this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2009 at 12:25 am

Kristen Barta, are you saying that the locked psych wards at Menlo Park will be relocated to Palo Alto? I used to work at the Menlo Park site, which is where the most severe and dangerous patients reside.

If the relocation is true, and if Palo Altans understood how much violence and illegal drug activity takes place WITHIN the wards, on the grounds, and in the immediate area, they'd be up in arms.

1 person likes this
Posted by To the one who falsely accused Stanford...
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 18, 2009 at 2:59 pm

uh..the post about Stanford, a non-profit hospital, not taking psychiatric outpatients on MediCaid or Medicare or SCHIP is completely false.

Not taking VETERANS that are covered by the VA is different, if that is what you are trying to say. That I would believe.

But, unless things have changed drastically since I worked there up to 3 years ago, Stanford took "public assistance" patients.

Uninsured for whatever reason is another story. But then again, the VA only takes Vets, so I am not sure what you are trying to get at..

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