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At 2 years old, Colorado Springs VA clinic seeing 30 percent patient growth

PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic at Colorado Springs

WWW.VA.GOV

By RACHEL RILEY | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 25, 2016

The Veterans Affairs clinic in Colorado Springs commemorated its two-year anniversary Saturday, celebrating the increasing number of patients the facility has been able to provide services for since it opened in August 2014.

The Pfc. Floyd K. Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic saw nearly 25,000 veterans during the 2015 fiscal year, and officials are estimating that number will increase to 29,000 this fiscal year. Over the past four years, the number of people served at the facility and number of visits provided annually have risen by more than 30 percent.

Nathan Nidiffer, regional manager for the VA's southern Colorado clinics, said the Colorado Springs clinic is likely to continue to see more and more patients over the next four to five years.

"We grow exponentially every year," Nidiffer said. "That there is indicative of the fact that our veterans love the community, and they love the care they get when they come to the VA."

Veterans and their families were invited to the 76,000-square-foot facility at Centennial Boulevard and West Fillmore Street for an open house commemorating the anniversary, where free flu shots and information about clinic services were available. Representatives from El Paso County Veterans Services, the Colorado Springs Veterans Center and other veterans organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Purple Heart Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project were also on hand.

The clinic is one of 13 others that are part of the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, serving the state's veterans east of the Rocky Mountains. Before August 2014, Colorado Springs was home to three smaller facilities that provided health care services to veterans.

But since the opening of the new clinic, waiting times for veterans seeking care have increased.

After peaking at more than 25 percent facing a wait of a month or more for care, the waits have fallen slightly in recent weeks. The latest statistics from VA show that 24 percent of veterans seeking care at the Colorado Springs clinic wait more than 30 days ­- one of the worst backlogs in America.

Officials have blamed the long waits on high demand and staffing problems that left the facility with too few doctors.

The clinic is staffed by a little more than 200 employees, including doctors, nurses and other specialists.

Services offered range from basic health care needs, such as primary care, mental health, dental and vision, to specialty services such as orthopedics, gastrology and pre- and post-surgical. The clinic also houses a separate women's health care center and provides additional programs for homeless and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans.

Nidiffer said he expects wait times to decrease in upcoming years.

"We constantly grapple with wait times," he said. "There's always more need for improving process. We continue to review the process, review the demands of our patients, review the demographic for our patients and find out what's necessary. Then we prioritize based on that."

Clinic leaders have also said the facility may be too small to accommodate El Paso County's more than 80,000 veterans and began mulling an expansion this year.

While there are no concrete plans for a physical expansion, officials said the clinic has expanded its services over the past four years, providing new specialty services in areas such as podiatry and urology.

Army veteran Keith LaMee, who spent years serving on Fort Carson, said the clinic has "drastically improved" services available to local veterans, despite wait time issues.

"They still have to iron out some of the things because of the enormity of the veteran population here in the Springs," said LaMee, who pushed for the clinic to be named after Lindstrom, a Colorado Springs native who was awarded the Medal of Honor after his death in WWII.

Local Vietnam War veteran David Dillon, who uses the clinic for dental and hearing services, said he's had to wait between four and six weeks to get an appointment but is always satisfied with the care he receives.

"My experience has been really good," he said. "This facility is fantastic. The building is giving them a whole lot more room to operate."

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©2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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