Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 19, 2014

Community celebrates opening of mobile clinic

BLUEFIELD — Veterans who served their country during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and other conflicts converged Tuesday in Bluefield to celebrate the opening of a mobile clinic dedicated to their needs.

Veterans and dignitaries filled the Herb Sims Youth Center off Stadium Drive to celebrate the clinic’s arrival and honor the people who helped to make it possible. Much of the praise was focused on local veterans advocate Al Hancock, a U.S. Air Force veteran who has worked on the clinic project for more than 18 years.

“This is a wonderful day, a day I’ve been looking forward to a long time,” Hancock said. He thanked his wife, Sonia, and other supporters for their help during the quest to bring a veterans clinic to Mercer County.

“Let me just say that as Al Hancock, U.S. Air Force, retired, set his sight on a vet’s clinic, and said off we go into the wild blue yonder, many may have wondered about the fate of the mission,” U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., told the audience. “But, as Al in his heart of hearts knows, and not coincidentally, it is just how the Air Force fight song goes, ‘Nothing will stop the U.S. Air Force.’”

“It is, as the Bluefield Daily Telegraph has said, a ‘promise kept,’” Rahall added.

The 38-foot-long mobile outpatient clinic (MOC) will provide primary care to approximately 1,200 veterans living in Mercer County and the surrounding region. It is equipped with a wheelchair lift, two exam rooms, a waiting area, and a restroom. The new mobile outpatient clinic (MOC) will begin seeing local veterans today.

Dr. James R. Smith, MD, the physician assigned to the MOC, said the services will be like those found at a family doctor’s office. Prescriptions will be written there, and referrals will be made to other physicians if they are needed. The MOC will not be handling emergency cases.

Veterans need to make appointments before coming to the clinic, Smith said.

Besides Mercer County veterans, the mobile clinic can also serve veterans from neighboring areas such as McDowell County and Tazewell County, Va., said Director Karin McGraw of the Beckley VA Medical Center. Veterans need to be enrolled in the Veterans Administration health system if they want to use the clinic.

Veterans interested in transferring their primary care treatment to the new clinic can call 877-902-5142, extension 4233 or 4460 to do so, said Debbie Voloski, Beckley VAMC public affairs officer. The clinic can serve a total of 1,200 veterans.

After a ribbon cutting ceremony, veterans and other guests toured the mobile unit and learned more about its services.

“I’m so happy it’s here,” said Joe Wheby, 88, of Princeton, who served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War. He met his wife Connie, another Navy veteran, while serving in the Pacific Ocean. “We fought for it a long time and we’re going to make good use of it. If we don’t, we’ll lose it.”

Pete Sternloff, of Bluefield, who served with the Air Force in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967, pointed out the clinic’s wheelchair lift.

“This is awesome. This is really one of the neatest things I’ve seen happen in our area, and I hope we all support it the way we need to,” Sternloff said.

Plans are now underway for putting a tele-medicine unit near the Princeton Veterans Center on Mercer Street, McGraw said. The facility should be ready by late summer or early fall this year, she added.

While visitors toured the mobile clinic, Hancock said he still hoped to see a “brick and mortar” veterans clinic in Mercer County. Princeton Community Hospital has offered space, and the Hugh I. Shott Foundation has offered funding to help equip a clinic, he said.

Whether a veterans clinic will ever be established in Mercer County depends on a variety of factors, and one of them is the demand the mobile clinic will experience, McGraw said.

The clinic will be based at the recreation center and open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Dignitaries who could not attend Tuesday’s ceremony sent greetings and congratulatory messages.

“This is truly an exciting day for the veterans of this area, particularly those in Mercer and McDowell Counties,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said.

Tomblin said the people of West Virginia were grateful to the state’s veterans for their service.

“Their character and dedication are extraordinary, and they are the most extraordinary patriots,” Tomblin said.

U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he was honored “to work on behalf of the men and women who chose to put our country, our freedom, and our people first.”

Supporting the nation’s veterans and making sure they have the services that they need should be an unending effort, Rockefeller said.

“The mobile health clinic is truly on the cutting edge of delivering quality health care, and we are so proud to have it here in southern West Virginia,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in his letter to local veterans. The Veterans Administration has made great strides in providing health care to veterans in rural areas, he added.

Rahall said he would continue working for veterans’ benefits.

“Having this VA curbside health service, along with a planned tele-health facility in Princeton, ought to mean better health care for area veterans, and access to primary and mental health services, as well as specialty consultative services,” Rahall said. “It ought to mean increased checkups to catch problems early and prevent bigger problems later. It ought to help strengthen our veterans’ health and wellness in the region, and in the long run, it ought to save on the VA’s budget bottom line.”

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