Leestown VA near end of major renovation

A renovated gym with new equipment is available for use by patients and staff.
A renovated gym with new equipment is available for use by patients and staff.

The Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center is putting the finishing touches on a massive $42 million renovation at its Leestown Road facility that changes the way the vast medical complex — which includes the VA Hospital on Cooper Drive — offers care.

The changes mean the focus of the Leestown Road facility will be on primary care, with more sophisticated specialty and inpatient care at the Cooper Drive hospital.

The changes have been accomplished during the past five years and are nearly finished, though much of it has not been visible to people in the thousands of cars passing traveling the Leestown Road corridor.

The money has gone into a series of improvements across the Leestown campus. A new trauma suite, for example, cost $386,000; $698,000 was spent on renovating primary care suites.

Both hospitals have 500,000 square feet of space. However, the Cooper Drive hospital has 108 licensed beds, while Leestown has 91 in its community living center and residential rehabilitation programs — known as "hoptels," an amalgam of hospitals and hotels.

John D. Summers, acting associate director of the Lexington VA Medical Center, said the two campuses "will provide a really good healing space.

"Cooper is more urban, more high-tech," said Desti Stimes, director of public affairs for the Lexington VA Medical Center. The Lees town facility "is more laid-back."

Although much of the work inside the Leestown buildings has been invisible to the public, from the outside you see earth moving: That would be the additional parking spaces and the road that will redirect traffic around the Leestown Road complex.

Many of the features of the red brick buildings on Lees town Road — the original Federal style complex, with its ornate laurel trim, was built in 1931 — have been updated. The complex once featured a pool and a bowling alley, facilities that have been replaced as the Leestown division focuses more on short-term care using recreation and physical therapy rooms. Veterans who once stayed for years now stay for about 30 days before being sent home or placed in facilities closer to home.

"We're kind of landlocked over at Cooper," said John D. Summers, acting associate director of the Lexington VA Medical Center. Because there was no room to expand at the Cooper Drive facility, the expansions took place at Leestown.

The Leestown Road complex was long due for an overhaul, Summers said, from repainting the wrought iron to replacing a perimeter fence that dated from the 1950s.

To make it easier for Kentucky veterans to keep up with their health needs, the VA also has opened primary care clinics in Hazard, Morehead, Berea and Somerset; each has 15 exam rooms.

"I would stack this place up against anybody in the private sector," said Summers, who came to Lexington from the Atlanta VA Medical Center. "... If you're at a health care facility and you're not doing some kind of construction, you're shutting down."

Ray Montgomery, 61, an Army veteran recovering from a heart attack who had just finished lunch in one of the Leestown Road recreation rooms, said that in addition to recovering, he has learned how to take care of his health during his stay.

"It's something different," he said. "They've got a nice big TV and a fireplace. It's nice for everybody. People come here, and we can sit and talk."