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Telehealth allows vets to be seen in Syracuse without leaving Massena

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MASSENA - The future of medicine is now at the North Country Veterans’ Clinic at Massena Memorial Hospital.

With the introduction of a Telehealth service, veterans can in many cases be seen by a doctor at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse without leaving Massena, saving them at least a six-hour round trip.

“Right now we have upwards of 13 clinics set up for Telehealth,” said Zachary K. Chapman, MMH senior director of practice management.

Among them are mental health, rheumatology, two pain clinics, diabetic education, cardiology, women’s health, anti-coagulation, nutrition and dermatology.

More clinics will be on the way, too.

“We certainly see it growing and growing. We’ve had a ton of positive feedback from local veterans and providers. It provides endless opportunities to really treat our veterans,” said William Ashby, facility Telehealth site coordinator at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

“We have providers coming to us and asking, ‘Can I start a clinic?’” said Jordan Alexander, a licensed practical nurse and Telehealth clinical technician at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

Telehealth in many cases allows veterans to be seen by a doctor in Syracuse for one of those conditions without leaving Massena. Mark. P. Brouillette, senior director of ancillary and support services at Massena Memorial Hospital, said veterans who are referred to a provider in Syracuse will travel to Syracuse initially, but then can follow up in Massena through the Telehealth program.

“Obviously, especially with Massena being so far, so many veterans have to travel every time to Syracuse. This cuts down on the travel time,” Mr. Ashby said.

Along with Sandra Sweet, licensed practical nurse and Telehealth clinical technician in Massena, veterans are linked up at the North Country Veterans’ Clinic in Massena with a video conferencing chat, allowing them to conduct medical visits with a physician in Syracuse using a computer screen. All together, seven sites are linked up to the Telehealth system.

“The clinics are scheduled by the Telehealth team. They schedule them through one of the practitioners,” Mr. Chapman said.

“Obviously not every patient or every appointment is appropriate,” Mr. Ashby said.

The technology is so advanced in that, in the case of cardiology, sounds from a stethoscope that’s placed on a veteran’s chest in Massena can be heard in Syracuse. Cardiologists can also read EKGs or look at blood pressure readings via the teleconference.

“The technology has come so far. We’ve had cardiologists diagnose people with heart murmurs. The sound is very clear and the picture is good,” Mr. Ashby said.

“It’s so much clearer than Skype is,” Ms. Alexander said.

But Telehealth is only one of the changes benefiting veterans at the North Country Veterans’ Clinic, according to Mr. Brouillette.

He said they’ve recently hired additional primary care providers for the clinic, and those individuals have completed the lengthy credentialing process and are now seeing and treating local veterans.

“Our North Country Veterans’ Clinic is once again 100 percent staffed with three full-time primary care providers and four additional part-time providers,” Mr. Brouillette said.

The full-time primary care providers are Physician Assistant David Tisdale and Nurse Practitioners Erica Lussier and Carole Miller. Mr. Tisdale has been with the clinic since its opening. Additional part-time staff include Physician Assistants Joe Lamb and Amanda Rydberg, and Dr. Priti Mandalaywala. Physician Assistant Bruce Bassity is currently working through the VA credentialing process.

In addition, he said, even though their behavior health visits have been strong, they’ve added another social worker as part of their behavior health services. Kathy Green is the full-time psychiatric nurse practitioner, and the part-time staff includes Sheila Hamilton, Cindy Babbitt, Kathleen Mattis and Joan DeLarm.

“In addition to our increased staff/providers, we have added an additional exam room and social worker’s office,” Mr. Brouillette said.

Along with bringing the clinic back up to 100 percent staffing, the clinic’s hours have also been extended to accommodate four 10-hour days a week, he said. The clinic is now open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

“One of the biggest problems was access of care. We corrected that. Access is better today than it has been for primary care and mental health,” he said, noting that same day appointments are now available. “That’s something we haven’t been able to offer for six months or better.”

Mr. Chapman said about 2,100 veterans are assigned to the North Country Veterans’ Clinic for their health care.

“It’s safe to say we’ll see over 1,000 a month in the North Country Veterans’ Clinic. Right now it’s just under 700. As the staff goes up, it will reach 1,000. We encourage veterans to call and make an appointment,” Mr. Brouillette said.

They encourage other eligible veterans to sign up for the service by bringing a copy of their DD Form 214 discharge and application to the clinic or their local veteran service personnel. Once that has been approved, the clinic will issue a photo ID.

For more information, contact the clinic at 769-4253.

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