“We want to get it up and going as fast as we possibly can,” said John Patrick, Associate Director of the regional VA network.
The clinic is one of three new outpatient clinics to be located in North Carolina, expanding the VA’s current services. The Veterans Integrated Service Network 6, headquartered in Durham, manages eight VA medical centers and 15 outpatient clinics across North Carolina, Virginia, and a portion of West Virginia.
Funding for the clinic, which will offer services akin to that of a regular doctor’s office, was secured by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, R-Brevard. It will potentially eliminate the need for many veterans to make the drive to Oteen in Bunbcombe County, where the VA medical center is located.
“Think of it as a primary care facility when you think about what it will offer,” Daniel Hoffman, Director of the VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network, told about 200 veterans gathered at the Macon County Community Building Thursday.
The Oteen center is the only source of VA medical care for veterans in all of Western North Carolina. Last year, the medical center serviced 30,000 veterans through 265,000 outpatient visits and 4,000 admissions for in patient services. Approximately 14,000 veterans reside in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties. VA officials have identified 2,942 veterans from the area using the Oteen center for their care.
The clinic will not offer specialty care such as neurology or radiology, or diagnostic work. For such services veterans will still have to drive to Oteen. The new clinic also will not provide emergency medical services.
“If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 9-1-1,” said Martin Greever, Chief of Primary Care at the Oteen VA medical center.
However, veterans pushed for officials to try to reach an agreement with local medical centers so that some additional services could be performed locally. Such details have yet to be formalized.
The clinic will be staffed and operated by the VA rather than contracted out — a statement from officials that drew a round of applause from the crowd of veterans.
Several veterans posed questions about the enrollment process for the new clinic. VA officials said that those veterans currently driving from Western North Carolina to Oteen for their services would be given preference to become patients at the new Franklin clinic.
“We want to give them the first opportunities to get enrolled,” Patrick said.
Veterans currently enrolled to receive services in Oteen who wish to receive services in Franklin will have to switch their enrollment; however, officials are aiming to make that transition as seamless as possible. Use of electronic medical records — a system for which the VA has earned high praise — will make it records available regardless of where a veteran receives his or her services. Veterans enrolled at any local medical service center will have the option of enrolling at Franklin if they so wish.
However, with 14,000 veterans in the six-county area and a clinic designed to only service 3,200, not all will be able to receive care locally.
“That may mean that some of you who want to get your care in Franklin can’t do it right away,” Greever said.