The Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System is expanding its Loch Raven complex with a long-term care center and an exercise and robotics center that will allow research into rehabilitation for wounded and aging veterans.

The $13 million project is scheduled to open later this year on the nearly 15-acre campus at the intersection of Loch Raven Boulevard and the Alameda in the Original Northwood neighborhood of Baltimore.

"Where we have room to grow, we must continue to grow so we can provide our veterans with the best care," said Nancy Quailey, associate director of operations for the health care system.

The system provides medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to more than 52,000 veterans annually at medical centers, community living and rehabilitation centers throughout the state.


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The $7.3 million community living center on the Loch Raven campus will accommodate as many as 120 long-term patients in "homelike" surroundings, Quailey said.

"It is a real cultural transformation for us," she said. "We wanted a more homelike environment. Better healing happens when patients feel more at home. This addition offers a more family-friendly and private atmosphere."

Center staff will care for aging veterans, many of them living with the debilitating effects of stroke, as well as veterans returning injured from war zones.

With communal and recreational spaces, multipurpose rooms, recreation areas, a kitchen, chapel and sitting area, Quailey said, the 10,000-square-foot, two-story community living center "will help us augment the care we are providing."

"It offers us larger spaces to improve on therapies," she said.

The present facility offers residents little in the way of venues for family visits, activities and socializing.

The $5.7 million exercise and robotics center will allow cutting-edge rehabilitative therapy and encourage research into mobility issues, said Dr. Richard F. Macko, director of the Maryland Exercise & Robotics Center of Excellence.

"We are making excellent progress in programs that improve the body's actions, sometimes a decade out from a stroke," he said. "That is the true mission of this new building."

The single-story, 15,000-square-foot center will include a gymnasium outfitted with more than $1 million in equipment designed to meet the needs of veterans of all ages and abilities.

"Here we can implement exercise to help those with disabilities and also analyze the outcomes," Macko said. "We can offer proof of what works."

While the patients will primarily be older, much of the equipment and therapy has been adopted for use by those injured in combat.

Officials chose the Loch Raven campus for its accessibility and because significant pieces of its health care system are already in place there, said Quailey.

Macko said the VA plans to reach out to its neighbors. Officials are in talks with the city health department to set up a community health program at the Loch Raven location.

"We have made some excellent progress on major mobility issues with our vets and would like to extend that program to the surrounding community," he said. "This effort is not solely restricted to veterans. It is for all Americans with disabilities."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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