SIKESTON -- A primary care clinic for military veterans should be up and running in less than a year.
Earlier this month the Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to open three new clinics in Missouri with Sikeston being one of the sites.
"The clinic will offer primary care and mental health care, and it's all going to be on an outpatient basis," said Chuck Hayden, Public Affairs Office and Compliance Officer at John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff.
The Sikeston clinic will be similar to the VA community-based outpatient clinic in Cape Girardeau, Hayden said. However, the Sikeston clinic is designed for veterans in Pemiscot, Dunklin, Mississippi, Stoddard, Scott and New Madrid counties, he said.
The VA-operated and owned clinic will be staffed with 10 employees, including medical doctors, nurse practitioners, mental health providers and clerical staff. It's expected to be operational before Oct. 1, 2009, Hayden said.
"We're hoping of course, it's earlier than that, and it depends on the contracting process and getting the staff hired," Hayden said.
The location of the clinic has not yet been determined, Hayden said.
"The VA just put in a statement of work, and when approved, it will be advertised and they'll send out contracting for bids (for possible sites)," Hayden said.
Hayden said the potential need for a clinic in Sikeston was identified through a planning session held in June.
"From that planning session, it was determined, based on the veteran population, we'd probably be able to support a clinic there (in Sikeston)," Hayden said. "If it met the minimal requirements, we'd be authorized to place a clinic there."
On Dec. 5, the clinic was approved by the VA in Washington, D.C.
"I thought it'd probably happen because in the rural areas of Missouri, the biggest issue is timely access of care with timely access of care being the time of drive," Hayden said.
The standard is care available for veterans within a 60-minute, preferably 30-minute, drive from a veteran's residence. Currently Sikeston area veterans' closest drive is to Cape Girardeau, which takes about 40 minutes, or Poplar Bluff, which takes about one hour.
The Poplar Bluff VA hospital provides primary care to veterans throughout 28 counties of Southeast Missouri and Northeast Arkansas. About 50,000 veterans live in its service area and about 40 percent of them receive care at the medical center annually.
The Sikeston clinic will be the Poplar Bluff hospital's fifth stand-alone clinic that will be operated five days a week, Hayden said. The other four are in West Plains; Farmington; Cape Girardeau; and Paragould, Ark.
Hayden said several individuals and groups are in favor of the clinic being housed in Sikeston.
"We work with veteran service officers, and our proposal was presented to them, and they were excited (about a clinic in Sikeston). And we have full support from congressional offices and from them," Hayden said.
State Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Sen. Kit Bond and Sen. Claire McCaskill have expressed their support for the clinic.
"When I toured the state meeting with veterans last year, I got the message loud and clear -- veterans in rural communities need options other than long, expensive drives to other parts of the state or even outside Missouri," McCaskill said in a recent news release.
Ed Carr, a U.S. Navy veteran and adjutant of VFW Post 3174, said he's very pleased Sikeston will have a VA clinic.
"I think it will certainly enhance the services the VA provides and make it easier for the older veterans who are unable to drive and make it closer for them," said Carr, who is a disabled veteran and uses the VA clinic.
Carr said he can't think of any disadvantages to the clinic being placed in Sikeston.
"Our goal is to provide veterans, especially in this rural area, timely access to quality healthcare, and that's always been our goal," Hayden said. "And it will continue to be so as long as there's a VA in Poplar Bluff and the VA as a whole exists."