VA officials: Joplin, Missouri clinic will 'be here before you know it'
By EMILY YOUNKER | The Joplin Globe, Mo. | Published: June 12, 2018
JOPLIN, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are about two weeks away from getting the keys and taking formal ownership of a building at 32nd Street and Connecticut Avenue that they're turning into a new clinic for community-based health care for veterans.
Meanwhile, the clinic itself is still on track to open to patients later this year, said Wanda Shull, public affairs officer for the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, a Fayetteville, Arkansas-based VA branch that oversees the Joplin area.
"This will go quickly," she said Monday while touring the clinic with The Joplin Globe. "It'll be here before you know it."
The VA had been looking for years to expand its access to care for patients in Southwest Missouri, with officials announcing in February 2016 that they would open a new clinic at 1800 W. Republic Road in Springfield to replace the Gene Taylor Outpatient Clinic in Mount Vernon, which opened in 1989. A second announcement more than a year ago was made to reveal the location of a clinic in Joplin: a recently constructed but still vacant building at 3015 S. Connecticut Ave.
A construction kickoff was held in December at the site, and work has progressed smoothly since, VA officials said. No work has been needed on the building's exterior; interior work has completely transformed what was once open space into two floors of patient rooms, staff offices and labs.
The first floor, still under renovation, will include the main entrance and lobby, 10 consultation rooms for behavioral health services, a pharmacy consultation space, a few bigger rooms for services such as group therapy or support networks, and a base for local VA programs targeting veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless. A designated area just outside the front entrance will be turned into a stop on the city's Sunshine Lamp trolley system.
Renovation is further along on the second floor, where lighting fixtures have been installed and air conditioning units have been turned on amid the summer heat. The second floor, primarily hosting radiology and primary care, has been arranged according to the patient-aligned care team model, which involves health care professionals planning whole-person care, and lifelong health and wellness of patients.
Local VA officials said the model is designed to foster collaboration among the clinic staff and to ensure that patients are seen and treated in a fast, thorough manner.
"It's (about) the veteran getting their care from one group of people," Shull said. "It takes a lot of the care of the patient and puts it across a team so they're getting care more quickly and efficiently."
Jacque Long, facility planner, said the goal is to open the clinic with six primary care teams and expand as needed.
The clinic's design and special features also attempt to promote the health and well-being of its employees. Private spaces for nursing mothers will be available, as will staff showers for employees who choose to commute to work via the designated bicycle paths along Connecticut Avenue, Long said. Space also will be carved out for administrators and others from the Fayetteville office who plan to "telework" from the clinic, she said.
The Joplin clinic expects to see about 7,000 unique patients in its first year of operation, Long said. Another 17,000 unique patients will be seen at the Springfield clinic, which could open as early as Oct. 1, she said. The Mount Vernon clinic will close once both the Joplin and Springfield locations are fully operational.
"I think we're impacting veterans a lot better by being here and in Springfield," she said.
Shull said the VA office is already active in getting staffing positions approved and ordering furniture for the Joplin site. There's no official opening date for the clinic yet, but the hope is that it will open before the end of the calendar year, she said.
To inquire whether you might be eligible for VA care, go to va.gov or call the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks at 800-691-8387. The VA also will hold enrollment fairs later this summer or in early fall before the Joplin clinic's opening, Shull said.
"If you've served in the military, see if you're eligible for health care through the VA," she said. "Don't assume you're not eligible."