The VA Clinic in Hamlet, located at 100 Jefferson St., will soon undergo changes to better address concerns heard by veterans who felt they were not sufficiently treated.
Former Nurse Manager of the clinic, Patricia Davis, said she has heard many complaints from veterans who seek treatment through the clinic.
“One main problem is that there hasn’t been a primary care physician there since 2009,” said Davis. “The whole reason for primary care is so a physician is seeing the same panel of patients. At the clinic, there is no continuity of care.”
Because of this, Davis said there is a gap in follow-up appointments after a veteran has been treated at a hospital.
“When a vet is seen in a hospital, a physician tells them instructions to follow up with a primary care provider,” said Davis, “but the clinic does not see them in that time frame. They go without medication or pay out of pocket.”
Davis described one veteran’s situation, in which the veteran had chronic kidney disease and had not been seen by a primary care physician for over a year and a half. Another veteran Davis recalled received stints after two heart attacks, but had not been seen by a cardiologist.
“Why did he wait that long?” asked Davis. “He couldn’t get through to the clinic. He needed an appointment for a referral. It’s a system that does not have good communication.”
According to Veterans Affairs officials, the Hamlet clinic was designed to serve 3,600 veterans located in all the counties surrounding Richmond County, including those in South Carolina. They offer primary care and mental health care as well as diabetic classes, pain management, addiction rehabilitation and smoking cessation classes.
Fayetteville VA Medical Center Director Elizabeth Goolsby said she has been aware of the issue of not having a primary care physician at the location in Hamlet. She explained that the clinic has two PACTs (Patient aligned care team), and one PACT is responsible for keeping up with 1,200 patients’ information and consists of a primary care provider, regular nurse, practicing nurse and a medical support assistant.
“We want two PACTs in Hamlet but we’ve had difficulty with finding a provider for the second team,” said Goolsby. “Hamlet does not attract families with children, because there is little for them to do. But as of September, there will be a permanent physician at that clinic, which I know has been a source of frustration for patients. There will be two physicians at the clinic at all times. We are truly committed to the area,” she said.
Another unique feature of the clinic is the ability to hold a video conference with the Fayetteville facilities.
“Sometimes veterans still have to go to Fayetteville,” said Goolsby. “We have older vets with chronic illnesses and diseases that need some extra attention. For them, we also offer Tele-buddy, a two-way communication system in the home where the vet can directly talk to a technician about their health.”
Goolsby said veterans can also send their physicians emails directly, which was “put in place recently in the past few months.” She also said staff at the clinic can give veterans canes with instructions. Other certain types of health aides have to be administered in Fayetteville because veterans must be measured for scooters, etc.
Goolsby also said there would be renewed focus on linking veterans with the health care they need.
“We know there are veterans in the area that are not signed up for health care,” said Goolsby. “We have a rural health team. People may not think they are eligible, but we ask the population to look for this team, sometimes as part of events. The team can answer questions, and has a pharmacist who can answer questions as well.”
Goolsby is a veteran and served 32 years in the Army Nurse Corps.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.