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North Hills : VA Medical Center Tackles New Mission

The Sepulveda Veterans Administration Medical Center in North Hills is dedicated to treating wounds that may never go away.

For many of the injured soldiers and service men and women who have hobbled through its doors since it opened 40 years ago, the past is tough to escape.

But at a special 40th anniversary celebration and pre-Veterans Day ceremony Thursday, hospital administrators spoke of the future--and of rededicating the center for a new purpose: outpatient care and research.

The shift away from acute care and residential psychiatric treatment was in part prompted by more than $100 million in damage sustained by the hospital during the Northridge earthquake, administrators said.

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“On Jan. 17, 1994, our mission was changed forever,” said acting director Dollie G. Whitehead, speaking to a small gathering of patients, doctors and retired administrators. “We lost our acute, in-patient capability,” after the quake, “but it strengthened our ambulatory-care and allowed us to add to our rehabilitation and day-care programs.”

A modern, 242,000-square-foot outpatient ambulatory-care facility is under construction and scheduled to be completed in October, a spokesman said. Expanded services will include primary care, psychiatric treatment, neurology and stroke rehabilitation. The center maintains a 120-bed nursing-care unit.

Robert Mark, who retired as chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation last year after working 39 years at the center, recalled the days when patients were expected to stay around a while. They could partake of amenities such as a six-lane bowling alley, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a closed-circuit radio broadcasting station, and a 75-seat theater.

“Back then, the idea was, ‘Keep ‘em happy while they’re here,’ ” he said.

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