Open house set for area VA clinic on Friday

Published 10:18am Monday, April 21, 2014

ALBERT LEA — Five years after announcing plans for a community-based outpatient clinic in south-central Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will host an open house Friday at its new Albert Lea clinic.

The clinic, in the former Jo-Ann Fabrics at Skyline Plaza, opened for veterans April 2.

“It’s a celebration,” said Ralph Heussner, VA public affairs officer. “It’s a dedication. It’s a time for the public to see the clinic.”

The clinic, which was renovated and will be operated by Louisville, Kent.,-based company Valor, will serve veterans along the southern border of Minnesota plus northern Iowa. The company operates more than 30 other VA clinics in the country.

At its height, the clinic is expected to serve between 2,500 and 3,000 veterans, Heussner said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its number of community-based outpatient clinics across the country to focus on preventative and primary care, he said. He noted veterans are more likely to get treated for a problem if they do not have to travel as far.

The clinic will be able to treat veterans for primary care, podiatry and mental health counseling. It will have a dietitian, a social worker and a pharmacist on hand, along with teleretinal and X-ray machinery, according to Danielle Elg, the registered nurse clinic administrator. In addition, patients can communicate with doctors at the Minneapolis VA Clinic through computer software.

The clinic has 12 employees, but could add more as more veterans come to Albert Lea to be treated.

Heussner said veterans between Rochester and Mankato and in northern Iowa are invited to seek services through the Albert Lea clinic, but veterans can choose where they go for care. If they have already established relationships with a provider at another location, they can continue going to that location.

He said patients will be able to get in to see their doctor faster through a VA clinic than they would be able to in the private sector. VA guidelines require a patient to be seen in 14 days for most cases, or seven days for nonemergency mental health needs.

Care is divided up into teams, comprising a primary care physician, a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse and an administrative assistant.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Jake Boelman, a member of a Minnesota National Guard unit out of Brainerd who works in the clinic and lives in Albert Lea. Though his primary clinic is not in Albert Lea, he said it will be nice to use it in case of bad weather.

The open house will begin at 1 p.m. Friday. Staff will provide guided tours to the public.

Fifty children from Southwest Middle School are slated to perform at the open house, and representatives, including 1st District U.S. House Rep. Tim Walz, will be in attendance, along with other state and local officials.

Heussner estimated at least 200 people to attend the event, though information about the open house went out to 20,000 veterans.

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