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New VA clinic in Indiana preps for Monday's opening

Workers install decorative glass Wednesday in the new St. Joseph County VA Clinic in Mishawaka, Ind.

ROBERT FRANKLIN/THE SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE (TNS)

By JOSEPH DITS | The South Bend Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 13, 2017

MISHAWAKA, Ind. — Natural light spilled Wednesday onto the main hub of the new St. Joseph County Veteran's Affair Clinic, illuminating the way for newly trained employees on their first day.

Veterans will begin coming for more than 500 possible appointments next week — after almost two years of construction.

Contractors unpacked furniture, added decorative glass dividers and prepped for a coffee and snack shop.

Outpatient services in this 71,000-square-foot building will be so vastly expanded that the federal Veterans Affairs will open them in three phases over the next two months.

It is here where the VA hopes to grow the number of patients from about 8,000 to 13,000 in the next two years. Officials say they’ve enrolled an extra 600 veterans since January.

“It’s moving quickly,” said the clinic’s associate director of operations, Jay Miller, who’s been here for two years to oversee the startup of this $38 million facility. “We’re on schedule and under budget.”

The Tribune took an early tour Wednesday and found Brandy Delong-Casey, newly hired as an advanced medical support specialist, at her neatly organized desk — in the midst of a pod of desks, all surrounded by doors to several medical exam rooms. This is one of three clusters of exam rooms.

“There's a lot of new services,” said Delong-Casey, who will help with scheduling patients. “I’m most excited to see how (veterans) respond to it.”

A day earlier, on Tuesday, The Tribune spoke with veterans from Argos, Plymouth, LaPorte and South Bend as they filed in and out of the current VA clinic in downtown South Bend, which will open for the last time Friday. None of them knew what services to expect at the new clinic.

But Loren Hayn, 66, said he’ll be grateful that he won’t have to travel to a VA hospital in Fort Wayne for a colonoscopy or a scope down his throat, as he’s done in the past two years.

Vietnam War veteran and heart attack survivor William Martensen, 63, has faith that the VA will meet his needs, including pills that it sends in the mail for a brain injury from a motorcycle accident when he was in his 20s.

“I’ve jumped out of airplanes and been dead (in a coma, after a motorcycle accident) for three days,” he said, wearing camouflage-colored jeans and head wrap. “The only thing I know is the Lord loves me and I love him.”

Transpo began an extended bus route on Wednesday that reaches the clinic. And Miller said that, thanks to a federal grant, in January the VA will start its own transport system with vans that can pick up veterans from outlying areas and places that the bus doesn’t serve. That will be in addition to current transport services from volunteers and the nonprofit Disabled American Veterans.

More than 100 newly hired employees are starting out here, Miller said. They include about 20 out of the 35 or so workers from the current clinic in South Bend. In the coming year, the new clinic will eventually employ 164.5 full-time positions.

There’s a psychiatrist as part of the mental health staff. And the VA has hired eight physicians and nurse practitioners — the VA is aiming for 12 of them — each of which will have a medical team to work with 900 to 1,200 vets, said health system specialist Matt Kelly who’s helping to prepare the clinic.

They will all be VA employees. Aside from the mental health staff, the current clinic has used staff from a contracted company, he said.

The VA will contract out for cleaning, maintenance and an eyeglass vendor, Miller said.

Since this isn’t a hospital, all services will be outpatient.

Still, it boasts several rooms that will save veterans from traveling to the Fort Wayne hospital or to a local provider — for physical and occupational therapy, prosthetics, eye and hearing clinics, foot and skin doctors and a cardiologist. The limited X-ray and ultrasound services will expand while adding CT scans. Space will be dedicated to women’s care.

The new clinic won’t offer a pharmacy, but there will be a pharmacist on hand to answer questions, Kelly said.

The new clinic will hold an eligibility fair next week when veterans can take tours and learn whether they qualify for VA assistance. Any veteran can get services at the clinic, including those with private insurance. But whether or not the VA will cover that medical help, Kelly said, depends on financial need or the disability that a veteran sustained while in active service.

St. Joseph County VA Clinic
1540 Trinity Place, Mishawaka

• By car: Follow Trinity Place east from Saint Joseph Health System’s Medical Center. Or, from Douglas Road, go south on Fir Road, then west on Trinity Place.

• By bus: Transpo has extended Route 15A to reach the new VA Clinic. The route begins at the Mishawaka Transfer Center and will drive on to the clinic after stopping at Saint Joseph Health System’s Medical Center on Douglas Road. It stops at the VA clinic hourly from about 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to coincide with the clinic’s hours. Route map is at sbtranspo.com/rider-info/va-clinic-mishawaka. Call Transpo at 574-233-2131 for guidance on routes.

• Tuesday through Sept. 22: All veterans are invited to tour the new VA Clinic, ask questions and see for which services they are eligible from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.

• Sept. 27: The annual Military Stand Down moves to the VA Clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with an array of social and medical services, employers and freebies for returning veterans and homeless veterans.

• Sept. 29: Grand opening 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

• Services that start Monday: Primary care, woman’s health, mental health, social work, radiology, tele-health, laboratory and pharmacy consultation.

• Starting Oct. 16: Podiatry, urology, prosthetics, compensation and pension, audiology, eye clinic, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

• Starting Nov. 13: Colonoscopies and throat scopes, dermatology, cardiology and home-based primary care.

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©2017 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)
Visit the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) at www.southbendtribune.com
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