Health, social services building opens Monday

Published 9:57 pm Saturday, May 16, 2009

Beginning Monday, Suffolk residents using the services of the Suffolk Health Department and Social Services will be heading to a new building.

The new Health and Human Services Building, located at 135 Hall Ave., will open for business on May 18. Late last week, city workers and contractor employees still scrambled throughout the building, trying to get it ready to serve the city’s residents.

“I think it’s a great asset to this community,” said Leonard Horton, the director of Suffolk Social Services.

Email newsletter signup

The three-story building is certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building, a program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first LEED-certified building in Suffolk.

On the first floor, a large shared waiting room for both the health and social services is outfitted with chairs, tables and three large wall-mounted screens to display information such as hours of operation, program specifics, responsibilities of patients and more. The screen in the children’s waiting area will display children’s programming. Also, the screens will show information sessions on how the building become LEED-certified, one of the requirements of the program. Three check-in desks for Social Services, Health Department and WIC (a health department program for women and children’s nutrition) are grouped around the waiting room.

Also on the first floor are file rooms, nurse offices, interview rooms, exam rooms, laboratory, breastfeeding education room, conference room, supply room and more. Areas with sensitive information and materials, such as the file rooms and the pharmacy, are guarded with a card system that allows access only to certain staff.

The second floor houses a reception area for Social Services continuing cases, and also has offices for Medicaid, the food stamp program, and the environmental programs. A family visitation room (twice the size of the room in the old building) is provided for supervised visits, and offices for a psychologist and psychiatrist are nearby. A section of the second floor is set aside for a washer and dryer, and a bathroom with a tub and shower. This section, Horton said, is for bathing children and washing their clothes after they are taken from their homes before going to foster homes.

The health department’s primary offices reside on the third story. The highest floor houses a conference room, finance, administration, emergency preparedness, and offices of health department officials.

Lisa McCoy, the director of the Western Tidewater Health District, is excited about the new building and all the extra space, she said.

Horton and McCoy hope that combining resources – including a computer network, the building, parking lot and more – will help the city save money and provide better customer service for residents. The two specifically mentioned the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and food stamp programs. The two often have the same clientele, but WIC is a health program and food stamps belong to social services.

“It will be easier to make referrals,” McCoy said. She added that the Suffolk Health Department would like to go back to providing services five days a week. The department ended Friday services several months ago to save money.

The city has put out a request for proposals for someone to purchase the current health building, said city spokeswoman Debbie George, and is exploring options for departments to move to the current social services building.

A ribbon cutting will be scheduled for a Saturday in June.