EL CENTRO — Military veterans rallied here Friday morning for the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System’s (VASDHS) new Imperial County clinic.
Robert Smith, M.D. is the director and CEO of VASDHS. “It has a greatly expanded capability of providing specialty services through telemedicine to the veterans who live here,” said Smith.
A press release dated March 8 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs indicated more than 1,550 veterans were enrolled in the Imperial Valley Clinic which had booked 5,885 patient appointments in fiscal year 2016. There are currently more than 7,600 veterans residing in Imperial County.
“We’ve had a clinic in Imperial Valley since 1996, but this new clinic will provide a more significant presence in the community,” Smith said. The old clinic was located on Imperial Avenue in El Centro about one mile west of the new site and near El Centro Regional Medical Center.
“I hope that veterans will see this as an opportunity to reach out to the VA if they have not done that previously, and to make use of VA services here in Imperial County,” Smith said.
Luzviminda Saidro, M.D., the medical director of the VA Imperial Valley Clinic, said many of the veterans come for chronic disease management including diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, asthma, old injuries, or because they have no other insurance. Some also come for physical examination for drivers license, and to fill-up forms to avail of VA services, referral to nursing homes, and to get wheelchairs.
“We function as a primary care clinic. If we need to refer patients, we refer them to the proper specialists. We manage everything just like any other doctor would,” Saidro said.
Two local veterans, the Figueroa brothers of El Centro, attended the open house. Philip Figueroa served in the U.S. Army from 1967-1969 and his brother, Tom Figueroa, was enlisted from 1964-1966.
Philip said of the clinic, “It is beautiful. I like the war pictures. You lose the whole day just to go to San Diego for a 30-minute check-up and go home.”
His brother, Tom, simply said, “This is a whole lot better.” The brothers talked with fellow veterans about war movies as well as healthcare concerns such as blind tests and hearing aids.
Smith said telemedicine has greatly expanded the capability of providing specialty services to the veterans living in Imperial Valley. Care providers in San Diego can connect with veterans residing in Imperial Valley and provide telemedicine services in areas such as mental health, dermatology, gastrointenstinal, endocrinology and nephrology.
Sterling Medical is the current contractor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that operates services for the Imperial Valley veterans at the new location on 4th Street. Charlene Reiser, the liaison for Sterling Medical clinical, said the new site is three times larger than the previous clinic. There are currently 12 staff members, but that number will eventually increase to 15 in the future.
Reiser said the new clinic has four primary care examination rooms and 12 rooms dedicated for telehealth meetings with a provider through a television screen, which is almost like having a provider inside the room. However, there are times when the VA clinic has to seek the services of local hospitals. For instance, El Centro Regional Medical Center can provide radiology imaging exams.
The bus services remain the same. “We will still have travel services back and forth to San Diego for veterans that need to be treated there,” Smith said. “There are certain specialty services and surgical intervention procedures that will be still done at our main location, the VA Hospital Medical Center in La Jolla.”
Evidently, with more services provided locally by the VA Imperial Valley Clinic, the bus services operations will likely reduce trips to San Diego.
“We are trying to reach out to other veterans who don’t know of our existence here,” said Saidro. “Also, that they can actually come here and sign-up for eligibility. We would love them to come and see us.”
“It’s time for us to serve our veterans,” said Reiser.
The Veterans Administration Imperial Valley Clinic can be reached at (760) 352-1506. Business hours are 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The clinic is closed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.