Prior to 2011, veterans in Southern Nevada were sent marching all over the valley to various leased facilities for their medical treatment. That all changed when the Department of Veterans Affairs opened its Northwest Primary Care Clinic in September, followed by another in the southeast in November, the southwest clinic in January and the northeast clinic in February.
Sometime later this summer, the VA Medical Center will open its doors at 6900 N. Pecos Road in North Las Vegas. This 90-bed facility will host separate buildings for diagnostics and treatment, mental health, ambulatory care, administration and education and a 120-bed community living center. The state-of-the-art facility will allow doctors to perform vascular surgery, instead of scheduling the procedure at VA hospitals in adjacent states. Also, more rehabilitation services will be available.
Not only the medical and support staff who work in these state-of-the-art buildings, but thousands of veterans who seek treatment daily seem to have had nothing but glowing praise for the level of care the VA has bestowed on those who served in the military and now meet the qualifications for health care.
The four primary care clinics have made a difference in providing quality health care for veterans. They offer treatment for post-traumatic stress disorders, traumatic brain injuries, severe pain and hearing issues. According to Dr. Ramu Komanduri, chief of staff at the VA in Southern Nevada, each clinic will have 12 primary care doctors on premises when fully staffed. And each physician will have their own registered nursed, licensed practical nurse and nursing assistant to assist them. Currently, each clinic has its own pharmacy and radiology department for basic procedures.
"Our goal is to provide one-stop therapy not far from where a veteran lives," Komanduri said. "We are 100 percent computerized so patients’ files can be viewed more easily. We don’t work with paper anymore."
The doctor said he is most proud of the four clinics’ telemedicine capabilities. Patients who are tested for diabetes, pulmonary issues, dermatology concerns and mental health can have their results immediately shared for diagnosis or real-time examinations done via computer with associate physicians at the VA clinics in San Diego, Loma Linda, Long Beach and Los Angeles.
"Anything you can do on video can be done with telemedicine," Komanduri said.
To streamline visits, each clinic utilizes a ticket system much like the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles uses. Upon arrival, veterans are welcomed by a volunteer at the front counter and given a number. The nearby waiting area is very serene and features overhead automated notification boards that show and announce numbers that are being called. A lighted waterscape sculpture that changes colors is strategically displayed, and skylights keep the lighting subdued and peaceful.
Medical support assistants are situated at individual stations for privacy when a veteran’s number is called. Land-line phones have been removed from these stations, so the medical assistants and patients won’t be interrupted.
After routine check-in questions, the medical support assistant then forwards the patient’s information to appropriate nurses, who in turn make arrangements for the veteran’s treatment that could include visiting a physician, having X-rays or lab blood tests done or having pharmacy prescriptions filled. Adjacent rooms to the waiting area are clearly marked Primary Care Module 1 and 2, X-Ray, Lab Blood Drawn and Pharmacy.
"We are able to get a constant flow and create a comfortable exposure for patients," said David Martinez, public affairs specialist with the VA. "It’s all very soothing for the patient. We’ve taken extreme levels to make sure this is the best opportunity for our veterans here."
The VA has designed all four primary care clinics the same. So if veterans decide to change clinics, they will be greeted the same and exposed to mirror images of what they see upon walking through the front door and the level of medical care they receive.
Behind the scenes, Komanduri said the design footprint has been more conducive for staff, too. No physician has his or her own office. They share space in what Komanduri calls a bullpen arrangement, where doctors share nurses and collaborate on each other’s cases.
Each clinic also has windows in the back offices so personnel don’t feel claustrophobic. There also are call centers to free up office personnel to service patients more thoroughly.
"All four clinics are designed to operate the same so doctors and nurses can rotate between clinics if need be," Komanduri explained.
"I think there is 100 percent improvement," said James McCawley, commander of Catholic War Veterans of the USA Inc. "The problem before was that you had to go to different places for pharmacy and a different place for X-rays. Now everything is centrally located. …
"I’d say 97 percent of veterans are much happier with the services they are getting now. They are leaving with smiles on their faces."
Jack Ford, past department commander of the American Legion, agreed. He feels the quality of care at the primary care clinics is superior to any at other VA clinic around the nation.
"It’s nice to walk into a place that is more relaxed and comfortable," Ford said. "The only problem we have is a shortage of doctors for now."
Anticipation is running high among veterans for the opening of the new Las Vegas medical center.
Every room will be private, except some in mental health, and all the rooms will have views of the outside.
"You will be able to have fresh food delivered to your room daily," Komanduri said, adding that food orders will be taken at bedside via convenient computer monitors.
Also, there will be accommodations for visitors to spend the night at the new medical center. Buildings and walkways will be color coordinated.
"Today, it’s not uncommon for a soldier to be involved in over 400 firefights," Komanduri said. "More and more veterans are coming home and needing care. Typically, one of our physicians will see 1,400 patients a year. That doesn’t include veterans coming to the pharmacy. Today’s veterans have more health issues because they have been deployed longer."
The VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System is currently serving about 47,000 veterans, Komanduri said. He anticipated that figure to easily surge to 60,000 within five years.VA Primary Care Clinics
• Northeast Primary Care Clinic, 4461 E. Charleston Blvd., 791-9050
• Northwest Primary Care Clinic, 3968 N. Rancho Road, 791-9020
• Southeast Primary Care Clinic, 1020 S. Boulder Highway, 791-9030
• Southwest Primary Care Clinic, 7235 S. Buffalo Drive, 791-9040
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL