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Watertown VA clinic to increase hiring, add new space

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Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday that its clinic in Watertown will expand in space and add personnel, changes which should be fully implemented in January.

The development comes as the clinic, run by Valor Healthcare at 19472 Route 11, shifts to patient-aligned care teams, which assigns patients to a single team of medical staff to promote continuity and improved communication.

“The biggest problem I’ve seen is that patients get frustrated when nobody calls them back,” said Richard G. Kazel, manager of the Syracuse VA’s medical/surgical care line. “When you have that team, you’re going to be connected.”

The team model has been used at VA clinics in Syracuse, Rome and Binghamton. Each team is staffed by a provider, either a physician, physician’s assistant or nurse-practitioner; a registered nurse; a licensed practical nurse; and an administrative staff member.

“There’s constant communication among the team, and there’s constant communication with the patient,” Mr. Kazel said. “That’s the thing that’s been missing at the clinic.”

To make the transition, Mr. Kazel said the clinic is in the process of adding a mental health provider, an optometrist, four registered nurses, two licensed practical nurses and two administrative employees to its staff.

Mr. Kazel said the clinic will have four teams when the hiring is complete.

To help accommodate the teams, the clinic has arranged to use another 2,700 square feet of the C.A.N.I. Building’s second floor. In addition to expanding its space in the building, the clinic will undergo several renovations.

Included in the renovations are the expansion of the clinic’s telehealth program, an interactive live video system that allows patients to be examined and speak with specialists from other medical centers, saving time and travel costs.

Among the areas of care that will be aided by the telehealth system will be the clinic’s ear, nose and throat care; cardiology; optometry; and dermatology services.

As an example, Mr. Kazel said that optometry care will be improved with new cameras that will give a closer look at a patient’s eyes and allow staff to be directly consulted by an off-site eye surgeon during the examination.

Mr. Kazel said the improvement work should finish in January, at which point the clinic would be able to fully transition to the patient-aligned care team model.

In the meantime, he said patients will be informed about the coming changes both during their visits and through a series of handouts and mailed fliers in the next few months.

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