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Jim Marshall, right, president of Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake, leads a tour of the renovation at the hospital to accommodate the new VA Clinic and Telehealth Center recently for Congressman Kevin Cramer, left, and other officials. The center is scheduled to open next month. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

After wait, veterans ready for Devils Lake clinic

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DEVILS LAKE — A long-awaited Devils Lake veteran’s clinic likely will open in August, just as soon as remodeling is completed in Devils Lake’s Mercy Hospital, where it is located.

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Officials expect the clinic to start making appointments by the end of July, according to Peggy Wheelden, public affairs officer for the Veterans Administration Health Care Center in Fargo.

“When I first started here, there were two places veterans could go to get care — Fargo and Minneapolis,” Hospital President Jim Marshall said this week while guiding a tour of the facility. “It’s been a dream that’s finally coming true for Devils Lake.”

It’s been a long wait for area veterans. Federal officials first announced about a decade ago that a veteran’s clinic would open in Devils Lake.

“It’s been both frustrating and exciting,” said Stacy Twete, Ramsey County veteran’s service officer. “The frustration is the delays. There’s a lot of guys here who have been waiting for this. Most of these guys are older and they’re sick and tired of driving, especially in the winter.

“On the flip side, they’re excited. Many of them want to get that first appointment.”

According to 2012 Census updates, 2,285 military veterans live in the five-county area surrounding Devils Lake. They include: 864 in Ramsey County; 408 in Benson County; 364 in Nelson County; 406 in Pierce County; 243 in Towner County.

The clinic also likely will serve some veterans in other nearby counties, according to Twete, including: Cavalier County, which has 378; Eddy, with 195, and Foster, with 227.

Today, the Fargo VA medical center, which serves about 33,000 veterans in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, operates nine community-based outpatient clinics in Bismarck, Dickinson, Grafton, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Minot and Williston, as well as in Bemidji and Fergus Falls, Minn.

When it opens, on the third floor of Mercy Hospital, the Devils Lake clinic will be staffed by two full-time registered nurses and one licensed practical nurse. It will be open from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday throughFriday.

Dr. Robert Holten, the clinic’s designated physician, will be stationed at the VA Healthcare Center in Fargo, providing patient consulting services online through the telehealth system, which allows patients to see and talk to the doctor from remote locations.

Holten is expected to be in Devils Lake at least once per month for face-to-face appointments, according to Wheelden.

While other VA clinics in the state offer telehealth services, the Veterans Administration Devils Lake Primary Care Telehealth Outpatient Clinic will be the first in the state without a full-time physician on site.

Wheelden said surveys both regionally and nationally have indicated that the telehealth services are being well received.

“It’s going very well,” she said. “It’s a nice way to provide specialty care to patients. Physicians can stay in one place and serve more patients at the same time. Surveys say telehealth patients like it too, because they don’t have to travel.”

Meanwhile, the VA is searching for a new doctor to staff the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Grafton, N.D., after Dr. Robert McCartney resigned in May.

The VA currently is advertising for a full-time physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant for the Grafton clinic, according to Wheelden.

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Kevin Bonham
Kevin Bonham covers news from northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native, who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for nearly 30 years. 
(701) 780-1110
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