Veterans clinic meeting its mission

May 01, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

The Hagerstown Veterans Clinic has had ups and downs in its first year, but administrators and veterans say the clinic has done what it was supposed to do - get veterans closer to the health care they need.

Since it opened last May, the clinic has seen 1,651 patients, said George M. Moore Jr., director of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The hospital runs the Hagerstown clinic and two others like it in Cumberland, Md., and Stephens City, Va. There are plans for four more outpatient clinics to be run on a contract basis.

"We're all very glad to see the VA clinic in Hagerstown. It saves the expense of going to Martinsburg," said Wayne Taylor, 66, a retired Air Force colonel who volunteers there.


Instead of driving 45 minutes to Martinsburg for a checkup, veterans can see a doctor at the clinic on the third floor of the Western Maryland Hospital on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Like a family doctor's office, the clinic provides preventive health care and screening, annual physicals, immunizations, management of diabetes and hypertension.

Most often, veterans use the clinic for care before and after they have surgery, Moore said.

In December, some veterans complained that they had to wait days or even weeks for an appointment at the clinic.

Some showed up as walk-ins, which is now being discouraged by the administration.

Taylor, who is vice president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County, said most veterans are pleased with the service.

"You have to wait a little bit, like you do at a doctor's office," he said.

The clinic has cut back on its staff and its hours since opening. At the same time, the clinic has added services, Moore said.

Appearing much like a hospital ward, with an administrative hub circled by exam rooms, the clinic has plenty of room to grow.

Moore said the clinic is constantly working to give the veterans the best service at the least expense to the government.

"There's always an adjustment phase and that's what we're in," he said.

Merely opening the outpatient clinics represented a revolution in the philosophy of veterans' hospitals.

"Health care is changing an awful lot and we'll change with it as it goes," Moore said.

The clinic sees about 22 patients a day, on average, with the ability to see as many as 32.

If more patients make appointments, the clinic can run more efficiently, he said.

The clinic is not designed for emergencies. Some veterans have come in with symptoms such as chest pains and nurses have had to call 911 to take them to the hospital.

The clinic depends on the help of 40 volunteers, many of them veterans, who answer the phone, greet patients and do general office work as needed, said Carol Cardle, the clinic's interim administrator.

The clinic is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.

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