Visitors to the newly renovated lobby of the Ralph H. Johnson Veteran Affairs Medical Center stood as quietly as they could as Helen Richards, the sister of the hospital's namesake, was given a folded flag in honor of her late brother.
Friday would've been Johnson's 70th birthday and in recognition of the the Medal of Honor recipient, the hospital took time to celebrate him while showcasing improvements to the hospital made in his honor.
"We have Ralph's name with pride," said Scott Isaacks, director and CEO of the hospital.
In addition to a newly renovated front lobby, the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC revealed an expanded emergency department with combined improvement costs of over $3 million.
The upgrades come as the downtown Charleston hospital reports a significant increase in their veteran population, growing just over 12 percent in the last two years.
The hospital expanded the emergency department to allow officials to address that increase, Dr. Lancer Scott, the departments chief, said.
Before the expansion, the hospital saw about 24,000 patients a year. Now it will be able to handle close to 36,000 patients, Scott said.
"We're in this business to save lives," he said.
Some of the new features of the department include technology upgrades, sliding doors in the patient area to reduce noise, nine new treatment bays and four newly dedicated mental health rooms.
"It really gives us a private area for our veterans," said Dr. Hugh Myrick, the associate chief of staff of mental health at the VA. "They deserve everything that we can do for them."
The hospital also announced plans for additional parking to accommodate visitors.
"You know there's construction all over the place," Isaacks said.
In the newly remodeled medical center lobby, the hospital added and upgraded the waiting areas, a designated welcome center and high-definition video wall.
Visitors are welcomed by a new video that showed some of the work the VA looks to do to help their veteran population.
More distinctly, it also shares the story of Johnson, who died at the age of 19 while serving in Vietnam after leaping on a hand grenade to save the lives of his comrades. He was awarded the medal posthumously.
That portion is narrated by his former platoon leader, Lt. Clebe McClary.
"Ralph did a good job," McClary said. "I wish we could have kept him alive."
The video closes with words from Johnson's sister. And though she said at the event that his birthdays are always a sad time for her and it makes it difficult to say all the things she wants to say about her brother, she enjoys seeing him recognized.
"I am so happy that he is getting the recognition that he's getting," she said.