VA Clinic

Retired Marine Richard Wirt of the Princeton was waiting with other veterans to be seen by the clinic’s staff at the Princeton VA Clinic’s new location on Courthouse Square, Monday.

PRINCETON — Area veterans now have a new clinic with more than eight times their old facility’s space plus new options for medical care designed to limit their trips to providers outside the Mercer County area.

The new Princeton VA Clinic opened its doors to patients Monday at its new Courthouse Square location near the intersection of Morrison Drive and South Walker Street. This larger facility replaces the VA clinic that opened in June 2015 on North Walker Street.

Located on the Courthouse Square building’s second floor, the move gives the facility a big increase in workspace.

“This the first day we’re seeing patients here in this clinic; so we moved from about 800 square feet with five staff to this, which is 6,700 square feet and we will have about 12 staff here to start out,” Stacy Vasquez, the director of the Beckley VA Medical Center and all the VA clinics in southern West Virginia, said. “We’ve hired all the positions. They’re just moving in right now and we’re phasing them in so it’s manageable with patients.”

Vasquez said work on finding a larger location for the Princeton VA Clinic started in 2016 when she became the medical center director. Work on a new Lewisburg VA clinic was underway and that project had to be completed first. Al Hancock of Bluefield, a local veteran’s advocate who has spent years getting a veterans clinic into Mercer County, asked her not to forget about finding the Princeton clinic a better space.

“Al Hancock said to me, ‘Stacy, I want you to make one promise to me while you’re here and that is you will give us a real clinic in Princeton because everybody keeps giving us these spaces and I don’t feel like it’s a real clinic,’” Vasquez recalled. “And said, ‘Al, as soon as I open Lewisburg and I can only afford to do one a year with all the equipment and staff and all that kind of stuff, I will shift my attention to Princeton and see what I can figure out.’”

Vasquez assured Hancock that she wouldn’t be “a pumpkin head” and forget Mercer County veterans, and worked to find a way to get the facility a new space. The Courthouse Square location was found, and one of the physicians, Dr. Kamelash Patel and his team “did a great job” of getting the space constructed, creating a clinic that “the community can be proud of.”

“Actually, I think it’s one of the nicest spaces in the city,” Vasquez stated. “You would expect to see a clinic of this caliber in a big city or at Hopkins or something like that. And I really do feel like veterans in this area deserved just as good as you would get at Hopkins. That was our aim.”

Spacious corridors, restrooms and examination rooms are part of the design.

“It’s a whole other feeling. You’re not crowded. There’s big windows in it,” she said. “You get sunlight, there’s a waiting room that actually accommodates the number of patients, the chairs are wider so they can fit patients who may need a little more space. All the hallways are designed to roll large wheelchairs down so it’s much more accessible.”

“The whole space is designed for people with disabilities. And the bathrooms are designed that way with a pass through for the lab specimens,” Vasquez added. This space was really designed for patients who would have issues with mobility issues and stuff like that. And we have room to expand... we made room to grow here.”

The new clinic has a second health provider, and it offers video links that allow patients to have consultations with VA medical specialists in Beckley. And the facility offers mental health care, too, she said. Some prescriptions can be filled on site, and the VA can offer classes such as yoga, which help patients gain muscle strength while keeping them away from opioid pain medications. One goal is to reduce the numbers of times that veterans have travel outside the area for health care.

“We really do want veterans to get the care closest to where they live,” Vasquez said. “It’s better for them, they spend less time in a car, and the weather can be kind of interesting here, too; so having something closer to veterans is really much better.”

Besides more space for patients, the medical providers have more space, too. Dr. Stephanie Phillips had just moved into her new office, a space she didn’t have at the old facility.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s just unreal with windows and a beautiful view. The veterans love it so far. It’s great to have a real space where we can do more things and have more services.”

Retired Marine Richard Wirt of the Princeton was waiting with other veterans to be seen by the clinic’s staff.

“Well, I think it’s a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s a big improvement over what they had and I’m sure all the veterans will be pleased with it.”

Veterans who have questions about eligibility for Veterans Affairs healthcare can call 304-255-2121 and press option 4 to speak with an enrollment specialist.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com