Dr. Dave Donnelly, chief of staff at the SORCC in White City, will be on hand Friday for the official dedication of its new 16,500-square-foot outpatient treatment center. - Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

Healthy boost for vets

Navy veteran William Kelton looked relaxed as he sat in the new digs at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.

"I just came in to get a flu shot. For an old man, I'm doing pretty good," said Kelton, 84, of Central Point, a retired diesel mechanic who has been an outpatient for some two decades.

"This is a beautiful building, so much better than what they had before," he added. "You don't have to sit and wait real long as you used to. They keep their appointments pretty well up to date now."

Kelton is one of the 16,000 outpatients who use the primary care building at the Department of Veterans Affairs-run SORCC, which caters to veterans in southwestern Oregon and far northwestern California.

Although it opened in mid-August, the roughly 16,500-square-foot building, which cost a little less than $10 million, will be dedicated Friday.

The dedication ceremony, open to veterans and their families as well as the public, begins at 1 p.m. at building 201A at SORCC.

"This expansion consolidates outpatient care to a more centralized area," said SORCC Director Don Burman. "It affords geographic proximity of mental health and primary care to better meet veterans' health care goals and improve efficiencies."

The shiny new building stands out on the campus, which was built in 1942 as Camp White to train soldiers during World War II. At one point early in the war, some 40,000 soldiers were posted at the Army camp.

In addition to the outpatients, SORCC treats more than 400 inpatients and has an annual operating budget of about $90 million.

It has a staff of about 550, making it among the top 10 employers in Jackson County. It also has about 500 volunteers.

"We have had a fairly steady growth in the number of veterans coming here," said Dr. Dave Donnelly, chief of staff at SORCC, during a short tour of the building Wednesday. "We've added a primary care team to our staff. But we have fairly old buildings here and we had people scattered around."

The new building improves the efficiency of outpatient treatment by consolidating services, he said.

"With a new emphasis on women's health care services, we also needed to have space to meet gender-specific care needs," he said. "Our old space was not designed for that."

The top floor of the new facility and several exam rooms are specifically set up to serve women veterans, he said.

About 1,100 women veterans live in the region, he estimated, and about 900 of them come to SORCC for medical care.

"Increasingly, more women are in all branches of the military services," he observed, noting that women now make up nearly 25 percent of military personnel.

In one corner of the waiting room are several toys for children.

"Because we have a younger cohort of women with their children, maybe single moms, we have this set up so there are toys to play with," he said.

In addition to gender, age is a significant factor in the changing veteran population, he said.

"When I first came out here, the veterans were predominantly from the World War II era," he said. "But over the last decade and a half, those numbers have dropped off significantly."

As the ranks of the WWII veterans continue to grow thinner, dying of natural causes as they reach their late 80s and early 90s, veterans from the Korea and Vietnam wars are turning to the VA in greater numbers, officials said.

"As people get older, more of them tend to have heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis and general issues of wear and tear," he said.

However, there is also a large segment of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans stepping forward for help from the VA, he said.

"We are starting to serve more of the younger veterans," he said. "Within our outpatient ambulatory care populations and our residential care population, both getting vocational rehabilitation, substance abuse, mental health stabilization, we are getting a higher percentage of younger veterans here."

The previous outpatient facility was smaller with less room for individual care, he said.

"We have designed this with two to three exam rooms for each clinician to be able to see patients," Donnelly said. "The exam rooms are also standardized, so when you go into one you find the same things in one drawer as you would in other exam rooms."

In the older facility, a clinician's office also was the exam room, he said.

"This will be more efficient," he said. "It's also a nicer space with more lighting."

Indeed, the new facility gets plenty of natural light from its large windows, something missing from the WWII-era buildings.

In the next building phase, expected to occur in a few years, a 15,000-square-foot building will be used to provide services specifically for ambulatory specialty care, he said.

"We will eventually build a third building, also about 15,000 square feet, and at that point start shutting down some of our older buildings in terms of seeing patients in them for primary care," he said. Those buildings will then be used for other services.

Meanwhile, if a veteran needs hospitalization, he or she will still be sent to other sites, he said.

"If it is fairly elective, they will go to the Roseburg VA medical center or the Portland VA medical center," he said. "But in an emergency, they would go to one of our local community hospitals."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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