Durham VA celebrates 60 years

Apr. 19, 2013 @ 08:03 PM

Speaking at a ceremony at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Friday, the hospital’s chief of staff Dr. John Shelburne said he expects the future of medical care to include advances in the use of genetics to personalize treatment as well as in the use of technology to link physicians and patients.

The ceremony was held to mark the 60th anniversary of the center, which opened April 6, 1953, and was part of a wave of hospitals built in urban areas near medical schools, according to information from the hospital.

Shelburne, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, said there’s already been a “profound philosophical change” in the way providers approach health care. In the 1960s, patients had to physically come to the hospital to get care, he said.

The roads were not as good, and a number of patients who were farmers were limited by harvest time. Care was reactive, sometimes came too late and there was a focus on illness rather than wellness, he said.

There’s now a focus on disease prevention and wellness, Shelburne said, and patients can get virtual visits from medical providers in their homes through the use of telemedicine.

Shelburne said he expects to see further advances in the use of genetics to predict and head off illnesses in people, and in the application of personalized treatments.

He also said he expects to see artificial intelligence used to flag high-risk patients as well as to suggest treatments, and expects further advances in telemedicine.

“In closing, I’d like to invite you to the 120th anniversary of the Durham VA,” he said.

Friday’s event also included a performance by the 82nd Airborne Division’s All-American Chorus and a presentation of the colors by the South Granville High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. The ceremony capped a week-long series of anniversary events that also included an arts festival and exhibit, a car show, and live music.

Charles Lee, a resident of Williamston in eastern North Carolina, said he came to the hospital after he had a stroke in July. He said he served four years in the U.S. Army, three of those years in Vietnam.

He said he was able to go to college under the GI Bill, and later worked as a chicken inspector for 10 years. He said strokes are complicated, and he’s glad he’s being taken care of.

“It’s really good we have a hospital here. All these patients would have to travel long distances to get medical care,” he said. “Veteran care is complicated and so it’s better to have the VA than to have these people scattered in local hospitals,” he also said.

During fiscal year 2012, the Durham VA Medical Center treated 59,598 patients, including more than 567,356 outpatient visits, and 6,885 inpatient admissions, according to an email from Peter Tillman, a spokesman for the hospital.

The hospital employs 2,531 full-time workers, and has an active research program with 149 investigators and 460 active projects.

According to Tillman, there is a Greenville Health Care Center currently under construction under the Durham VA Medical Center umbrella that will replace an existing clinic in Greenville. It’s expected to open early next year.

Tillman’s email also said there the second phase of the hospital’s new research building is expected to finish this year. Construction on the first two floors of the building began in January of 2009. The second phase includes three additional floors.