Work continues on an $8.6 million clinic for military veterans under construction on the south side of Springfield. The 68,000 square foot Department of Veterans Affairs Gene Taylor Outpatient Clinic, near Kansas Expressway and Republic Rd., will replace the VA Clinic in Mt. Vernon once it’s up and running. It’s expected to open in the fall.
The first thing you notice when you walk in the clinic is the abundance of natural light with plenty of windows to let in the sun. The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, Arkansas is going for LEED Silver in constructing the facility. LEED is a national certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings.
Wanda Shull, spokesperson for VHCSO, said it will be what the Veterans Administration calls a “super clinic” that will offer a variety of services: "Primary care, mental health, lab, radiology," she said. "We'll have audiology services, a sleep lab. Endoscopy and dental are two new services coming here that we don't currently offer in Mt. Vernon."
There will be two lactation rooms for nursing moms. The clinic will also provide the new Patient Aligned Care Team or PACT model. Jacque Long, facility planner for VHCSO, said each patient’s primary care team consists of a doctor, a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse and a clerk.
"Used to be that they were kind of in little silos, you know for their teams. Now they will be in open areas, and they will all be in one spot, so it will be easier to collaborate with each other," Long said.
The clinic will also house a homeless program for veterans. That will offer things like help finding HUD and VA-supported housing, case management, acquiring basic living skills and more. A similar program will be offered at a new VA clinic currently under construction in Joplin, which is also scheduled to open this fall.
The Springfield clinic will also have a VA police force.
"This is a larger clinic, so the decision was made to have VA police as opposed to contracted security, which we would have at our other clinics," said Shull.
Mental health care will be a prominent part of the new clinic. Long says the VA has expertise in taking care of patients with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
"As one veteran told us, 'we get it,' where the general public doesn't," said Long. "Our behavioral health as 25 consult rooms, so I think our capacity for our mental health needs are here."
According to Long, the VA trains providers on evidence-based practices in working with PTSD patients.
Around 200 people will be employed at the Springfield facility. Many will come from the Mt. Vernon clinic, and some will be moved to the new facility in Joplin. Additional staff will be hired. Those jobs will be posted at USAjobs.com.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 new enrollees are expected when the Springfield and Joplin clinics open. One of those is likely to be Al Wagner of Springfield who said he’s “proud to be a Navy veteran.”
Wagner is commander of VFW Post 3404 on E. Atlantic in Springfield. He’s had private insurance most of his life and didn’t want to make the drive to Mt. Vernon for care. But he said he’ll probably use the new clinic in Springfield when it opens. Wagner was in the Navy from 1959 to 1964 and served as a boilerman onboard a ship during the Laos Conflict, which preceded the Vietnam War. He’s old enough, he said, to remember when O’Reilly Hospital was in Springfield.
"And when they moved it out, that was a disaster to the Springfield area, so bringing this new clinic back to Springfield is a plus for all veterans in the area," said Wagner.
Wagner is happy to see a brand new, full-service clinic dedicated to veterans, getting ready to open in Springfield.
"The veterans served our country, and if we're going to repay them for their servicesand what they did for our country and what they sacrificed, if we can give them facilities that's convenient for them rather than having to all the way out of their way and spend time on the road rather than being with their family, that's a plus," he said.
Robert Boydstun, vice commander at VFW Post 3404, served as a wheel vehicle mechanic in the Army for five and a half years. He deployed with the Tenth Mountain Division to Camp Victory, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom IV. Boydstun said he’s looking forward to the opening of the Springfield clinic.
"I think it's going to be very convenient because I lead a very busy lifestyle. I actually do work outside of the post at a full-time job, so it's better than me having to drive all the way to Mt. Vernon to try to go out of the way to just get some blood drawn and then, you know, come right back to where I need to be," Boydstun said.
Boydstun currently uses the Mt. Vernon VA Clinic as his primary care provider and has to drive to Fayetteville, Arkansas for some services.
"It's going to benefit the veterans locally here greatly," he said.
Veterans using the new facility, as with the VA Clinic in Mt. Vernon, shouldn’t have to wait too long before getting in to see a doctor. According to Shull, they track wait times daily and work hard to keep them down. That sometimes includes holding Saturday clinics. At last check the current wait time in Mt. Vernon was eleven days. Shull says the goal is to get a veteran in to see a health professional within 30 days.
Shull hopes the new clinic will make it easier for veterans to have access to quality care. She points out that the VA is the best at serving the unique needs of veterans.
"The needs of a veteran are different based on their service, their military history, if they were injured during service in any way, and the VA really puts a lot of resources into their staff to help them to be able to work with those unique needs of veterans," said Shull.
If someone has served in the military but isn’t enrolled in the VA, Shull encourages them to see if they’re eligible for VA healthcare. They can do that, according to Shull, by going to any VA clinic or hospital or going to www.va.gov and filling out a form. And, she says they hope to host an eligibility fair at the clinic once it’s open.