After touring the expansive facility, Dubuque resident and U.S. Army veteran Sam Spencer could hardly contain his excitement about the community’s new Veterans Affairs clinic.

He remarked about the sizable exam rooms — which he estimated are twice as large as the ones in the current clinic — and speculated that additions to local staff would mean reduced wait times.

Most importantly, he concluded that the new clinic would mean fewer trips outside of Dubuque to receive the care he needs.

“For the services they provided (at the current facility), they did an awesome job,” Spencer said. “But there are a lot of things they don’t do there and I have had to go to Iowa City. From the looks of it, I won’t have to do that so much anymore.”

AN EXPANSIVE UPDATE

About 200 people crammed into the lobby of the Dubuque Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic this afternoon to celebrate the facility’s impending opening.

Clinic Manager Ann Fessler said the facility, located in Plaza 20 just off Dodge Street, will begin serving patients Aug. 26.

The clinic currently operates out of a 4,800-square-foot space in MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center. That clinic will serve patients for the final time on Aug. 23, marking the end of a two-decade run in that location.

Located in a portion of the old K-Mart building, the new VA clinic spans 22,000 square feet — more than four times the footprint of the current space.

It will offer a wide range of services that are not provided in the current location, including physical therapy and radiology. Fessler noted that enhanced mental health services also will be available in the Plaza 20 facility.

The clinic currently employs more than 30 people. Fessler said the organization is in the process of hiring six or more people and she expects the workforce there to eventually surpass 50.

Fessler said she believes the upgraded facility sends a positive message to veterans.

“I think it shows that we are thankful for the service they gave and the sacrifices they have made, and we are here for them and ready to take care of their needs,” Fessler said.

‘YEARS IN THE MAKING’

Prior to a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, leaders from veterans organizations and city government took to the podium to speak about the clinic’s importance.

Randy Rennison, executive director of Dubuque County Veterans Affairs, said the new clinic was “years in the making.”

“The new radiology, podiatry, physical therapy and tele-health departments will allow Dubuque-area veterans to stay closer to home,” he said.

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol also expressed his excitement.

“This is a tremendous facility that will bring services closer to veterans who live and work in the tri-state area,” he said.

Dubuque resident Wayne Brown was among multiple veterans who stayed after the ribbon-cutting to tour the new clinic.

To Brown, the clinic provides further evidence of Dubuque’s commitment to veterans. He cited the continued presence of the Veterans Freedom Center and upcoming improvements to Veterans Memorial Plaza as other examples.

“I feel like it is a great time to be a veteran in Dubuque,” Brown said.

CHANGES AFOOT

The VA clinic occupies the eastern portion of the building that formerly housed K-Mart, which closed its Dubuque store in early 2017.

Plaza 20 Inc. President Michael Kahle said the clinic’s grand opening marks the culmination of a lengthy process that began with site recruitment and lease negotiations two years ago.

“It is a very satisfying day,” said Kahle.

More progress lies ahead in the shopping center.

A Sonic Drive-In restaurant is poised to open in Plaza 20 later this year, and Joann fabrics and craft store has commenced renovation work in a 20,000-square-foot portion of the K-Mart building.

Kahle said Plaza 20 officials are speaking with two national retailers, each of which hope to occupy a portion of the remaining 58,000 square feet within the building.

Officials at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center, meanwhile, are planning for the future of the space vacated by the VA.

Gary Guetzko, vice president of business development at MercyOne, said the VA clinic and Mercy enjoyed an “excellent relationship.”

“Nothing is finalized as yet in terms of a new tenant for the space vacated by the VA, although several parties have expressed interest,” he wrote via email. “We anticipate having those discussions finalized in the next several months.”

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