The new community living center being built will feature a “small house” concept to promote a more intimate environment. Courtesy of VA Long Beach Healthcare System

Major renovations are coming to the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach.

The $387 million construction project, which includes a new mental health and community living center, will bring long-needed upgrades to the facility and the patients it serves.

Here is a look at what’s in store.

Mental health facility

A new mental health facility is coming to the hospital to replace its 1966 predecessor, according to the medical center’s chief engineer, Anthony Streletz.

“There are unique needs for veterans of the different specialized trauma that they go through in combat that no one else goes through,” Streletz said. “It’s steadily increased as a need.”

Replacing the outdated center will be two new buildings: an 82,000-square-foot inpatient center and an 80,000-square-foot outpatient center. The inpatient center will have 45 beds for veterans, 15 more than the current center, and the outpatient center will offer a meeting space with large open spaces.

The new center is being built on a separate lot from the old one, allowing service to continue while the new buildings are under construction. Work on the new facility began in January 2019, and the hospital expects that the buildings will be ready to welcome patients by August of next year. The demolition of the old mental health facility is slated for January 2024.

Community living center

Construction is also underway on a community living center, which will house veterans that are in need of assisted living services. Like the mental health center, the current building offering these services was originally put up in the 1960s.

“The manner in which services are provided has changed significantly over the decades,” Streletz said.

The new 160,000-square-foot community living center will have 120 rooms and be built in a design style called the “small house concept.”

Instead of connecting hundreds of rooms to a single communal space, the new center will be divided up into 10 houses that each have their own communal space along with 12 individual rooms.

“We are trying to orient it towards a more home-like environment for veterans to feel more self-sufficient and self-capable within the spaces and are cared for,” Streletz said. “It’s a much more community-focused type healing environment.”

Some of these houses will focus on specific needs, Streletz said, like veterans suffering from dementia, which can create a better environment for the veterans and the staff members who care for them.

Work on this project started in late August 2019, and the new community living center is slated to welcome its first patients by the end of 2023. The current center is scheduled for demolition starting in January 2024.

Athletic complex

An outdoor athletic complex that will serve mobility-challenged veterans is on its way to replace a grass-field parking lot at the hospital.

The complex will still need parking, so the project includes a new 140-stall asphalt lot.

“With our veteran demographics, grass flats aren’t the best type of parking [for those] with a lot of mobility issues,” Streletz said. “So we’re basically upgrading that parking area.”

The lot will meet standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, with improved pedestrian accessibility that includes a new wellness path.

The athletic complex, meanwhile, will include a basketball and tennis court, an outdoor gym and an archery range—all of which will be specially built to serve those with mobility challenges.

“Para-athletes come here to train,” Streletz said. “These facilities will be for their use.”

Work on the project is expected to start in September and be completed in December. Patients will be able to use the field approximately 30 days after completion.

Parking garage

As some of these projects are replacing parking lots at the hospital, a new parking garage is also being built.

The garage will be an expansion of the existing parking lot D, increasing its capacity from 250 to 580 parking spots.

“We can only take down so much parking at a time,” Streletz said. “It’ll render the campus inoperational if we don’t have enough parking.”

Construction is expected to start in the winter or spring, with work wrapping up in the spring of 2024.

Kitchen upgrade

The hospital’s kitchen has long been in need of an update, as it currently only serves as a reheating room—forcing the hospital to bring food in from elsewhere.

“For whatever reason, the determination was made that kitchen services for prepared food would not be provided at this facility,” Streletz said. “We would cater it from our sister facility in Greater Los Angeles on a daily basis, and then it would be reheated here and distributed to the patients.”

Patients, of course, noticed the difference and have long complained about the lackluster food.

But taste isn’t the only consideration. Staff members have noted that it’s more difficult to meet patients’ specific dietary needs with catered food. So the new facility will instead be a full-service kitchen.

“The new kitchen provides better quality food that can be custom made to the patients’ diets and needs,” Streletz said.

Work on the kitchen began in late December 2018, and officials expect it to be completed this December. But because supplies need to be moved to the new facility, and staff need to be trained on the new full-service operation, Streletz said the new kitchen likely won’t be in use until the spring.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.