'Virtual' VA clinic to open on a limited basis today
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Olympic Medical Center commissioners Cindy Witham, left, and Jim Leskinovitch stand outside what will become a “virtual” Veterans Administration clinic near the medical center in Port Angeles. The clinic is scheduled to open today.--Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES - In what you could call a case of virtual reality, a Veterans Administration primary care clinic will open today at 1005 Georgiana St.

The facility has been dubbed a "virtual" clinic because it will use the offices and equipment of existing health care providers, including Olympic Medical Center and the Lower Elwha Health Clinic.

Other VA Community Based Outpatient Clinics are owned by the government.

The "reality" is that, after years of pushing from local health officials and the area's congressional delegation, the VA will start serving veterans in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Jim Leskinovitch, the Olympic Medical Center commissioner who led the push for a virtual clinic, said today's opening would be low-key.

"They're still having bugs in the information technology system," Leskinovitch said, after talking with Frankie Manning, associate director of nursing services at the VA's Bremerton clinic.

The Bremerton clinic will oversee the Port Angeles facility.

"They're just going to work out the bugs and start the process," Leskinovitch said.

To make appointments, or for more information, phone Manning at 206-764-2626.

No details announced
Manning did not return calls from Peninsula Daily News.

Even the agency's regional public affairs person could confirm only that the clinic would open, not what its hours will be.

At least one vet, however, got the good news Thursday when the Bremerton clinic called and asked if he would consider moving his appointment to the Port Angeles facility, according to Dick Stumbaugh, to Clallam County veterans assistant

For his part, Leskinovitch said he wanted to spread the news so that local veterans who receive primary care in Bremerton or Seattle can contact the VA and request that they be treated in Port Angeles.

"They need to get the word out that it is, in fact, opening," he said, "and the vets really ought to contact the VA and do the paperwork necessary to transfer over here."

Veterans also must register for medical benefits to receive them, he said.

For help in doing so, they may phone Stumbaugh between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at 360-417-2233.

Official to visit PA
Manning said Leskinovitch will visit Port Angeles on today and Tuesday to observe the start-up.

VA officials said the nurse practitioner who will staff the Port Angeles office also will make weekly visits to the Lower Elwha clinic, 243511 W. U.S. Highway 101, and to Coast Guard Station/Air Group Port Angeles on Ediz Hook.

However, tribal Health and Social Services Director Cecile Geenway said Friday she hadn't heard from the VA since April.

Wherever it offers services, the VA will provide only primary care in Port Angeles.

Vets who need specialty care will continue to receive it in Seattle.

That means the Disabled American Veterans must continue to provide transportation via DAV vans from Clallam and Jefferson counties to the Seattle VA center.

The Port Angeles DAV office is accepting donations to purchase a nine-passenger van to replace the one that was wrecked May 4 when it struck a tree on U.S. Highway 101 opposite the entrance to Sequim Bay State Park.

That crash killed Howard LeRoy Fisher, 63, of Port Angeles, a passenger returning from Seattle.

Since the wreck, the DAV has borrowed a six-passenger van from its Seattle chapter.

Persons interested in supporting DAV programs can phone Karen Key at 360-417-9444.

Building owned by OMC
The virtual clinic will open in a building owned by Olympic Medical Center and leased to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for $1 a year.

It has telephones and office equipment.

Besides the facility - a two-doctor clinic the hospital recently bought after its physicians joined the OMC staff - the hospital will donate $25,000 in emergency radiology and laboratory services.

Leskinovitch and OMC Commissioners Gary Smith and Cindy Witham joined hundreds of North Olympic Peninsula veterans in campaigning for the clinic.

Together, they bombarded the VA with more than 1,000 letters and 10,000 signatures on petitions.

The facility will not be a VA initiative at the department level but rather an extension of services from the existing Bremerton clinic.

Leskinovitch and others said the virtual VA clinic will be the first of its kind in the country.

The idea won support from U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, whose 6th District includes the North Olympic Peninsula, and from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

Both visited the Clallam County Veterans Center in Port Angeles last October to solicit veterans' opinions.

Riding with germs
They heard stories that included one from a vet with a chronic respiratory illness who must ride to Seattle in a van that sometimes is crowded by people coughing and sneezing with colds and flu.

Stumbaugh also told of a man who, because he physically could not go to the VA center in Seattle for treatment, had to sell his farm to afford private medical care.

Most of the veterans who met with Dicks and Murray had seen service in World War II, Korea or Vietnam.

However, Stumbaugh said the virtual clinic would be a blessing, too, for vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and who hold jobs.

Now, they must take off a full day's work to travel to Seattle.

With the virtual clinic, many of them may be able to stave off serious illnesses by receiving primary care in Port Angeles.

Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at jim.casey@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 11. 2007 11:04AM
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