NEWPORT CITY – The Veterans Administration opened an outpatient clinic Aug. 12, 2010, at North Country Hospital. At first, the clinic saw patients one and a half days a week. With an abundance of patients, the clinic quickly outgrew the facilities it shared with visiting physicians.
Friday marked a turning point for the clinic when it officially held a ribbon cutting at its new quarters on the Crawford Road by the I-91 access road.
The clinic shares the former Prouty and Miller building with other medical professionals. It offers primary care services, mental health services and visitation through a special interactive television network. The new clinic has about 3,000 more square feet than the hospital site.
“It’s all I ever dreamed of or needed,” said VA Dr. Marvin Kendall. He said the facility has every possible resource in medical care. “It is gorgeous.”
Kendall worked for the VA at the Littleton, N.H. clinic in 2001. He has been with the Newport site since day one.
More than 500 veterans have enrolled with the Newport clinic and officials hope that number will dramatically increase, Dr. Mark Levenson, of the Veterans Administration in White River Junction, said during a brief program.
“Today is a day of thank-yous,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a strong advocate for veterans. “Mostly it’s a day of thank-you to the men and women who put their lives on the line defending our country.”
It’s no secret that promises made to veterans were not always kept, Sanders said. “Today a promise is being kept.”
Sanders said that traveling to the Veterans Hospital in White River Junction is not always easy, especially during inclement weather. Sanders also spoke about the importance of accessing healthcare in the early stages of being sick. “What this is about is when people need their primary checkups, they need their medicines, there is a facility in the community to provide that.”
Other VA clinics in the state are either expanding at their existing facilities or moving to new ones, which pleases Sanders, who believes community clinics are the future of VA healthcare.
Jon Copans, representing Rep. Peter Welch, said veterans often praise the health care they receive from the VA. Welch also hears frustration about the accessibility of the care, eligibility issues and travel times. The clinic helps remedy some of those issues.
Diane Derby, representing Sen. Patrick Leahy, thanked everyone who made the expansion a reality.
Mayor Paul Monette, who echoed the sentiments, recalled taking his father to the VA Hospital in White River Junction and never knowing what travel conditions would be like. Sometimes it was icy; other times it was foggy.
Levenson also presented a Pride and Public Service Certificate to North Country Hospital CEO Claudio Fort, the board of trustees and staff in recognition and appreciation of their commitment and dedication to veterans.
Fort said the hospital’s role was small. “My motivation for doing this was out of fear of saying no to Senator Sanders,” joked Fort. Fort learned early on that Sanders was a real catalyst for the clinic. “The senator has a very acute BS meter. If he wasn’t hearing something that didn’t sound right or we weren’t moving fast enough, he’d let us know it.”
Fort also credited Debra McCormick of North Country Hospital for the logistical work.
The clinics are an important part of the VA system, said Director of VA New England Healthcare System Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith. Vermont has a rich tradition of men and women who serve their country.
“We’re here for the veterans who served in past conflicts and we want to be here for the current service men and women, the veterans of the future,” said Mayo-Smith. He spoke highly of the VA health system and the computerized medical system it has. Mayo-Smith also had high praise for the staff who work at the Newport clinic. “We’re here on a nice sunny day; they’re every day, year around. They’re here for you.”
Peter Conover of Newport City, who was the first veteran to receive care at the Newport clinic, said he loves the clinic and is very proud of it. Conover feels the Newport clinic is somewhat more efficient than the one he attends in Florida.
“They care about you; they contact you back,” he said. “I feel loved.”
“Spoken words cannot express the goodness and greatness of this facility and the people working in it,” said Francis Ormsbee, also of Newport City. “I wish every veteran would come here and establish a home.”