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Carroll County gets a new VA clinic



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DR. MARC LEVENSON, director of the VA Medical Center in Manchester, cuts the ribbon at the Conway Community Based Outpatient Clinic on Sept. 29. With him are guest speaker Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith (left) and Albany veteran Ed McKenzie. Daymond Steer. (click for larger version)
October 05, 2010
CONWAY — Everyone seems excited about the VA's new outpatient clinic on Hobbs Street, which opened on Monday Oct. 4.

Several hundred people, including veterans and state officials, attended the dedication ceremony for the community based outpatient clinic on Sept. 29. Previously, local veterans went to Saco River Medical Group on Greenwood Avenue.

With 700 to 800 veterans enrolled at Saco River Medical Group's facility, things were getting crowded, said Community Based Outpatient Clinics' Nurse Manager Mary Ann Church. The new facility has eight clinic rooms and is about 4,000 square feet.

"There was more demand than we had room for, so we decided to build this center to meet that need," said Church.

Manchester VA Medical Center Director Marc Levenson described the new building in Conway as an expansion of an existing clinic. There will be more space, staff, and services. The facility will cover primary care, ancillary services such as blood drawing, EKGs, and mental health services. Homecare services may be added soon.

"I can't say much because I'm so overwhelmed with what I found," said Veteran Ed McKenzie, of Albany.

McKenzie was a B-17 crewman who was shot down in the German theatre of WWII. McKenzie went on to befriend the German fighter pilot who shot him down and then he wrote a book about the experience. That book is called "Boys at War Men at Peace."

Korean War Veteran Don Kemper, of Ossipee, said he was impressed with how fast the facility was built. Two and one half months ago the construction site looked like a disaster area, but now it looks great, he said.

"This is beautiful, this is fantastic," said Kemper.

Vietnam veteran Walter Palmer, of Tamworth, said he was happy with the care he received at Saco River Medical Group but is looking forward to using the new facility, which will be dedicated to veterans.

"This is a big improvement for everybody," said Palmer. "There are a lot of old veterans in the North Country."

Coast Guard veteran Robert McHugh said he'd probably switch from going to Somersworth clinic to the new one in Conway. He noted the new facility looks "clean and bright" and will cover most types of medical care except emergencies. But there are other benefits for him as well.

"I won't have to pay a toll and my wife can go shopping," he said.

Levenson introduced Guest Speaker Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith as one of the people who brought primary care to the VA. Mayo-Smith oversees veteran healthcare in New England.

"Those of us who have been in the organization for 20 plus years have seen a revolution in the quality and access of care that's offered to veterans in the country," said Levenson. "Dr. Mayo-Smith was one of the leaders in that revolution."

Mayo-Smith said the VA provides very good care to its veterans. He cited a recent study that shows patients who came to the VA have a 20 percent lower death rate than people who got care outside of the VA. One reason the VA can provide such high quality healthcare is it has the best electronic medical record system on Earth. The computer can even give doctors reminders about patients' needs.

"We can pull up your x-rays and EKGs from anywhere in the country and this kind of information is critical when you're trying to give good care," said Mayo-Smith.

The high tech conference room can allow patients to consult with medical specialists as well as other VA officials in Manchester via camera. The conference room itself is decked out with a 43-inch television and a web camera, said Information Liaison Benita Constantino.

Over the years, McHugh said he's gotten good care from the VA — especially when it came to surgery he got in West Roxbury, Mass. Other veterans said that they also received good care at the VA.

There were many elected officials at the ceremony. Among them were County Commissioner Dorothy Solomon (D-Albany) and State Senator Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro). Solomon said she was pleased such a great facility was built so close to her home. For her husband Stan, a VA volunteer driver, it will probably mean fewer trips all the way to Manchester — each a round trip requires four hours of driving from their home in Albany.

Bradley said he knows building such a facility is an accomplishment. As a U.S. Congressman he helped get the Somersworth clinic off the ground in the 1990s. The nation has a duty to take care of veterans who served their country, he said.

"I'm glad to see, in this instance, money being spent appropriately," said Bradley. "This is a good day."

The clinic is open Monday through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Veterans must call ahead for an appointment. The number is 800-892-8384 x 3199.

The clinic is located in the Thibodeau building at 71 Hobbs Street in suite 304. It's located behind Ham Arena.

The Conway clinic is one of six in the state. The others are in Littleton, Manchester, Tilton, Somersworth and Portsmouth.

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