New veterans clinic to feature sophisticated technology

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Increasing enrollment is the most important ingredient to expanding what will initially be offered as a basic services health care clinic for Northwest Colorado, said Michael W. Murphy, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Grand Junction.

"Everybody that can get in, get in and help everybody else," Murphy said Friday during a town hall meeting at the American Legion Post No. 62.

The meeting covered information for veterans, family members and area officials concerning the new Craig Community Telehealth Clinic.

Area veterans and officials had long petitioned the VA for a local service for the estimated 4,200 veterans living in Northwest Colorado. Their efforts came to fruition earlier this month with the announcement that a clinic would open by Sept. 30.

Murphy, along with other VA officials, said an enrollment of 1,300 veterans is necessary to expand the clinic from its initial service offering. VA officials estimate 450 local veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system.

"I think if we get the numbers," Murphy said, "we can get a full-blown clinic." With adequate enrollment, "we can tailor the clinic to what the users want it to be," he added.

He said "slow, sure steps" dictate that the clinic can handle the services it says it can, and won't have to back track later on.

"We don't want to have to fall back and re-group," Murphy said.

The clinic, which will be located at an undetermined location in Craig city limits, will entail about 2,000 square feet and include exam, treatment, conference/education rooms and a reception area.

A registered nurse will staff the clinic, which will be outfitted with "state of the art" teleconferencing equipment linking local patients in real time with a health care provider in Grand Junction.

Initial services will be primary care follow up, mental health and nurse clinic visits, blood draws, immunizations, wound care, health screenings, suture removals and medicine, blood pressure and diabetes care management, among other services. Shortcomings VA officials said they hoped a bolstered veteran enrollment would help erase are the clinic being without an on-site doctor, pharmacy and life-sustaining equipment.

Murphy said the clinic isn't what VA officials had envisioned, but "I think we'll have a clinic open that will be satisfying."

VA administration officer Debbra Nicholas-Olson said the Craig clinic was modeled after a successful veterans clinic in Elko, Nev. She said area veterans were satisfied with the Elko clinic, which she noted did not have as sophisticated equipment as the Craig clinic will.

Nicholas-Olson said its important VA officials hear feedback from the community regarding the clinic and its services.

"We need to hear from you as we launch this program," she said. "We'll change to meet the needs of the community."

Area veterans currently have to travel to Grand Junction or Denver for medical care. The Craig clinic will be a boost toward convenience and serve veterans in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties, and Carbon County, Wyo., said Bill Harding, Moffat County Veterans Services Officer.

Veterans of Foreign Wars commander Bud Nelson said the clinic would be a big benefit to the local veteran community.

"We're excited about it," he said. "To transport an 80-year-old man six, seven hours (isn't practical). We needed something here, and now we can go here."

VFW and American Legion members encouraged local veterans to enroll in the VA system. Enrollment will be available during today's Hometown Heroes Picnic, slated to run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Craig City Park.

Murphy said it's possible, if a Craig location is found and prepped ahead of time, that the new local clinic would be open sooner than the Sept. 30 deadline.

"There's nothing that says we have to wait to open the door," he said.

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