Veterans glad to see mega-clinic open
By Bob okon firstname.lastname@example.org March 11, 2013 2:57PM
Mary Erickson (right), nurse practitioner, listens to the carotid arteries on Joliet resident and Army veteran Adolph Meditz (left) in the Department of Veterans Affairs Joliet Community Based Outpatient Clinic Monday, March 11, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 11, 2013 11:00PM
Clyde Williams knows how convenient the new Veterans Affairs medical clinic in Joliet can be for local patients.
Williams, an Air Force veteran, has had to travel to Edward Hines Jr. VA hospital near Chicago about every two months. When the appointment is late in the afternoon, he said, “The traffic can be rough.”
The new Joliet “mega-clinic,” which opened Monday, provides many of the same medical services available at Hines close to home, VA staff says.
Really close to home for Williams.
“For me, this is great,” he said. “I’m right down the street.”
VA staff said veterans from Joliet, nearby towns and even places beyond Will County could find they will save time and traffic aggravation by opting for the “mega-clinic.”
So called because of its size and scope of services, the mega-clinic is seven times larger than its predecessor clinic at 60,000 square feet.
It was first proposed by veterans in 2007 after Silver Cross Hospital announced it would build a new hospital in New Lenox. The new Joliet Community Based Outpatient Clinic was built in the remodeled emergency department of Silver Cross.
While veterans had initially proposed a hospital in Joliet, what they have is likely to save them the trip to Hines that many would skip rather than face the traffic.
Robert Laureys of Joliet, a Marine veteran from the Vietnam War, said he has paid more out of his pocket going to local doctors rather than travel to Hines when the local veterans clinic could not provide the care he needed.
“Hines is just too far,” Laureys said. “And, if I have to go into the hospital, I have no way of getting home from there.”
Veterans will find many of their needs now met in Joliet, said Cecilie Bourguignon, clinical nurse manager at the new clinic.
“We want our veterans to feel that whatever’s wrong with them, they can come in, and they won’t have to travel as much,” Bourguignon said. “If a veteran has a concern, we can address it. Before it was, ‘I’m sorry. You have to go to Hines.’”
One simple example is hearing aid adjustments. The clinic will get audiology services in coming months. Veterans have had to travel to Hines just to have hearing aids examined, Bourguignon said.
“A veteran comes in, and his hearing aid doesn’t work,” she said. “He goes to Hines for what is basically a 10-minute appointment.”
VA is opening the Joliet clinic in phases. It will not be fully staffed and equipped until sometime in 2014. But VA did not want veterans to wait another year to get the additional services already available at the facility.
New equipment used for teleretinal screening of diabetics also can be used to diagnose vision problems reported by any patient at the Joliet clinic, said Yvonne Williams, a telehealth clinical technician. The images collected in Joliet are transmitted to Hines, where they can be examined by ophthalmologists there.
In the past, Williams said, the patient was sent to Hines, and, “it may take more than a month to get into the Hines ophthalmology clinic.”
The new Joliet clinic works with Hines. It actually is one of six community outpatient clinics run by Hines, including a 20,000-square-foot facility opened recently in Bourbonnais.
Williams also operates a global cart, which allows her to send live video of patients to Hines, where specialists can examine a skin rash or even a neurologically related walking problem.
Mental health services have been expanded, too. Therapists in Joliet can now do group therapy for a simple reason, Bourguignon said: “We have more space.”
What’s more, veterans don’t have to stand in line as long when they arrive because the Joliet clinic now has space for a larger admissions staff.
Williams said he noticed that right away.
“Here, I walked in,” he said, “and a couple of minutes later I was talking with someone, which is great.”