MOUNTAIN HOME, Tenn. (WJHL)- It would be difficult to deny the impact of several Johnson City features on the region, including the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the heart of the city.
The VA just celebrated its 120th year in the Tri-Cities, and its impact can be felt throughout the entire region.
“I get all of my healthcare here at the VA,” said Cliff Vicars, the Chief of Chaplains for the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center. “One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in terms of healthcare.”
It all started back in 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln authorized the construction of 10 homes and medical facilities for Union Veterans of the Civil War.
In 1901 funding became available to build the Mountain Home Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.
Construction was completed in 1903, and in October of that year, the first patient moved in.
“We’ve gone from domiciliary type care to hospitalizations to more advanced complex type of surgeries, to now we even do robotic surgeries on the campus and continue to provide advanced technological care,” said Dean Borsos, the Director of the VA Mountain Home Medical Center.
In 1920, the home was changed to a hospital to be able to treat World War I veterans who returned home with tuberculosis and the flu. In 1989, President Ronald Reagan made the VA a cabinet-level facility, which allowed it to become a medical center.
“The VA or the original facilities, many of which were established to treat wounds associated with gunshots and bomb blasts and back in World War I were for poisonous gases,” Borsos said. “Over time, yes, we still have the bullets and the bombs, but we’ve also evolved where we can do more complex surgery. We provide women’s health services. We have robust primary care, specialty care and mental health services, and we’re able to continue to do those.”
The look of the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center has changed throughout the years, but the care has evolved too.
“We are a tertiary care medical center. We have 96 medical, surgical and psychiatric beds, a 120-bed community living center and a nursing home,” said Borsos. “Likewise, we have a 150-bed domiciliary, and so we’re organized like many other facilities across the country, we just have a focus on providing care to our veteran patients.”
In 2023, 70,000 veterans are enrolled for care at the VA in Mountain Home, with that number continuing to grow.
“We have a lot of veterans from this region, and for them to be able to get to the level of care that they get here is really a great statement to the VA and is also a great way to acknowledge their service,” Vicars said. “If you want to walk into a walking tour here, you’ll see a lot of updating and new construction going on. There’s a commitment to stay here for a long time to take care of veterans in this region.”
The center not only cares for veterans after their time in the service but also after their time on earth.
“We’re co-located with the national cemetery and to have them here with us and for us to be able to interact with them in honoring veterans who passed away, that’s a great thing to be able to do. We have great partnerships with chaplain services and at the cemetery just great partners,” Vicars said. “There are some notable people who are buried here in the cemetery. We have a historian here at the facility who’s able to kind of do tours of that as well.”
Several original buildings are being renovated to allow for more and even better services.
“We have our tele-ICU with ICU capabilities, and we also renovated that to put the state-of-the-art inpatient dialysis center down there. Works out very nice for our veterans, and likewise, we’ve been growing other services,” Borsos said. “We’ve got a robotic surgery program where we do general surgery, gynecological surgery or neurological surgery. We’re going to expand that surgical program to ion bronchoscopy and robotic surgeries as well. So we’ll be able to go in and take samples of lung nodules to try to diagnose cancer at its earliest and most curable stages.”
The James H. Quillen VA Medical Center is also expanding off its Mountain Home Campus by enhancing its satellite facilities and adding more services.