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A Monument to Veteran-Centric Care

Even among the impressive facades gracing the landscape of Medical City in Lake Nona, the new Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center stands out. The monument center glass tower stands like a sentinel over the long, wide boulevard entrance to the facility.
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A STATE OF THE ART HOSPITAL IN MEDICAL CITY

By Lyle Smith

Tim_Liezert
Tim Liezert

Even among the impressive facades gracing the landscape of Medical City in Lake Nona, the new Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center stands out. The monument center glass tower stands like a sentinel over the long, wide boulevard entrance to the facility. Twin wings at the front and rear extend at angles like arms embracing visitors as they arrive to the main parking deck entrances at either side of the building. The parking facility is housed in east/west wings of its own at the center of the building enabling visitors coming into the building from that perspective to step directly into the heart of the facility. They are welcomed by a smiling, red-vested hospital concierge ready to provide directions, give a tour or otherwise answer any question that comes to mind.

Medical Center Director Tim Liezert explains that every aspect of the development of the facility from initial design through the past three years of construction was thought through not just from functionality and delivery of services, but from how it impacts the people who are served here. “Our entire focus is on healing the mind, body and spirit,” Liezert explains, connecting every choice inside the spacious, welcoming facility to a “veteran-centric” philosophy and organizational culture beyond the core mission of high-quality medical care.

ENGINEERING A MEDICAL CENTER

Liezert is an interesting story in and of himself. A 29-year career in the VA, you’d be excused presuming he came to the field as a doctor or a veteran. In actuality, Liezert is a mechanical engineer by training. Early in his career, he explored an opportunity with the VA which at that time was looking for people with an engineering background to fill a role as a facilities manager. Over the years, as he rose in the ranks, he transitioned from places like Cleveland, OH; Indianapolis, IN; Lebanon, PA; and Buffalo, NY before taking on his first Director appointment here in Lake Nona.

And clearly, it’s his engineering background that’s served him well as this facility has grown up around him over the past few years. From the angled arms of the building, to utilizing engineered shading to improve efficiency—the building itself utilizes its own shade to help alleviate the need for electricity at different times of day and year—to the central placement of the parking deck, Liezert and his staff have thought through virtually every interaction veterans have with the physical plant.

VA_Hospital_Back

REFLECTING ON THE HEALING PROCESS

The main entrance is a long, boulevard-style drive while from the rear of the building extends an attractive walkway to an extensive, park-like memorial that sits on the edge of the wetlands property. Yet another opportunity to express thanks, gratitude and offer a space for reflection and healing.

While the medical center virtually operates as a city unto itself, the numbers alone, while impressive, bely the warm, welcoming, comfortable feeling within the facility.

  • 1.2 million square feet
  • $665 million, state-of-the-art facility
  • 1,500 employees
  • 107,000 vets treated annually
  • 3{bfd614f294d07c51b84c8dad33a56885001f0ed7300088ac66752d3246377d5a} growth year over year
  • 134-bed inpatient hospital
  • 118-bed nursing home
  • 60-bed domiciliary
  • Multi-specialty outpatient clinic
  • Veteran’s benefit mini service center.

ONSTAGE AND OFFSTAGE

But there’s more to the facility than just capacity, technology and capability. It’s something that’s difficult to define walking the clean, uncluttered halls. It’s an approach borrowed from a neighbor up the road in Lake Buena Vista, the Disney concept of offstage and onstage spaces.

“Except we call it public and non-public spaces,” Liezert laughs mildly. The director opens one door into a treatment room to illustrate the concept. “Patients use the public side,” he explains stepping out of an empty hallway into a treatment room and exiting a second door into the busy work area filled with desks, storage and computers for the staff on the other side. “The doctors, nurses and staff come in and out through this non-public side.”

This concept extends to the in-patient bedroom areas as well. Housekeeping and food service are all but invisible keeping the main corridors clear, safe and comfortable for veteran patients and their families. Nurses are assigned to two of these rooms each. A computer workstation stands built into the wall between rooms with windows looking in on each making it simple and efficient for staffing. Broad windows from each bedroom offer striking vistas of the surrounding wetlands and preservation areas.

VA_Hospital_Concierge
Red-vested hospital concierges personify veteran-centric care.

KEY: HIRE GREAT PEOPLE

But with such a large operation with such a large staff with diversity of duties, needs and responsibilities—there are 1,500 employees in Lake Nona and 3,700 in the extended facilities of the system—what is it that enables success managing a place like this?

“Recruiting great talent,” Liezert says succinctly. “Hiring the right people is the best way to manage a facility of this size.”

Over the past few years, under Liezert’s leadership, the medical center was able to land a series of VA innovation grants that enabled projects designed to understand that they were, in fact, hiring the right people.

“The question at the time was do we hire people ready to provide great customer service or do we train for it?” Liezert said. “We were able to fund a scientific testing project enabling us to understand that we were hiring the right people.”

VA_Hospital_PatientCOMMITTED TO IMPROVEMENT

Keeping his people at the top of their collective game is a priority for Liezert as well. In the west wing of the Medical City facility, there’s the better part of a floor dedicated to training and modeling of medical experiences. Medical staff go through extensive and regular training in real-life simulations.

The training facility involves fully laid out patient rooms, operating rooms, auditorium and even actors hired as “patients” for live simulations.

Beyond the impressive facility and operations on the interior and exterior, it’s the people that Liezert points out are the core of what they call a “good veteran experience.” “We really want to be sure we deliver a delightful experience to each and every one who comes through,” Liezert said.

Michael McKnight, one of the Medical Center veteran concierges may have captured it best, “When they come in smiling and go out smiling, we’ve done our job.”

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  • Your vision and implementation is being noticed. I remarked to people how incredibly zen the facility was. Normally, I would wonder why in the heck so much money was spent on a facility but in this situation it was very clear that money was spent with a very clear purpose and that was to create an exceptional experience for the customer, i.e. the veteran seeking healthcare. It’s very interesting to read that what I felt when walking into the facility was exactly what the designers wanted me to feel. Impressive.