A new, free-standing VA clinic is planned in Brunswick in the next two years.
David Whitmer, the new director of the Carl Vinson Medical Center in Dublin, made the announcement during a meeting Thursday with a group of more than 80 veterans at the American Legion Post 9 in Brunswick.
Whitmer was in town for a town hall meeting to explain the Mission Act, a new federal law that enables veterans to go to an outside network for some of their health care needs.
The new clinic will be build at a location yet to be determined within three or four miles of the existing clinic on Glynco Parkway, he said. It will have all the most modern equipment and services available designed to the new VA standards, he said.
“We are starting the planning process now on a new clinic,” Whitmer said.
Veterans living in Glynn County are eligible for specialty care under the Mission Act if they live more than a 60-minute drive from the nearest VA hospital. The medical center in Dublin is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Brunswick.
The goal is to “transform the VA into a high reliability organization” with a high capacity to provide health care for veterans by modernizing internal systems, hiring more staff and enabling veterans to get health care locally after VA officials approve the procedure.
VA employees are also empowered to express their concerns without retribution from superiors.
“I want to offer a potential solution,” he said.
Whitmer, who has been on the job about two months, said he was given the power to hire, retain and remove staff “if they don’t rise to the challenge.”
The VA will also use teleconferences with physicians to diagnose a condition online quickly. Doctors out of the area who play a role in a veteran’s treatment will visit the hospital for in-person visits with their patients periodically, Whitmer said.
“It provides high-quality care,” he said.
One struggle is to deliver health care to veterans in rural areas. Whitmer said he is seeking a grant for a mobile clinic that will bring medical services to them.
Another challenge is to find doctors willing to work in a rural area. An incentive program offers up to $200,000 in forgiveness of student loans to doctors who agree to work at a VA hospital for five or six years.
“It’s a huge challenge for us recruiting in rural areas,” he said. “This gives them a broad training experience.”
For the more than 60,000 veterans living in the 49-county region, Whitmer said they will be empowered with more health care options.
Veterans are now eligible for urgent care, where they can have immediate medical treatments up to three times a year with no copay.
Another new program provides training to family members to become caregivers for a veteran and a monthly stipend to provide the health care. The program also provides respite care to give the primary caregiver a break once or twice a week.
“It’s one of the most popular parts of the Mission Act,” he said.
The electronic record keeping system is also being modernized to speed up the process.
While veterans will have the option to seek local health care in some instances, Whitmer said his goal is to create a VA hospital where veterans want to seek treatment.
When patients do choose a local doctor for treatment, Whitmer said VA officials will help the veteran navigate the system, set up doctor’s appointments and ensure the doctor’s bills get paid in a timely manner.
“It’s simpler for everyone,” he said. “Our providers don’t have to chase payments. Veterans will have more choices than ever.”
Whitmer said it has been about three years since the VA held a town hall meeting in Brunswick. He said that will change. He plans to hold two town hall meetings in Brunswick every year.