A ribbon-cutting Monday morning officially opened the new Veterans Administration Lahontan Valley Outpatient Clinic, a sprawling 10,000-square foot facility to handle more than 3,000 veterans.
Lisa Howard, director of the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System, said offering healthcare to veterans living outside the major urban communities such as Reno and Las Vegas is important.
“The challenge of providing healthcare services to veterans living in rural communities is a major public health concern,” she said in her prepared remarks.
Howard said 2 million veterans — or 40 percent of the total veteran population— live in highly rural areas and have less access to healthcare services. According to Howard, veterans also living in rural areas have long distances to travel for care, have a lack of healthcare insurance and specialty care and face a shortage of healthcare workers.
Howard said Sierra Nevada VA recognized the acute shortage and grew its outreach to establish five rural clinics including the one in Fallon, which first opened its doors on West A Street in 2007 with a staff of only three. Now, said Howard, the clinic has grown to 14 employees and expanded to open a clinic in Winnemucca.
The new Fallon facility, which opened in December at 1020 New River Parkway, includes 15 exam rooms, women’s health rooms, two group rooms, two rooms for telemedicine and a pharmacy.
Howard also received certificates of appreciation from Sens. Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez-Masto and Congressman Mark Amodei.
Leslie Quinley, who has been clinic manager since the first facility opened, said she has learned much in a decade in a role she calls “a job of the heart.”
“We are a family here and a safe place for our veterans to go,” she said. “We’ve grown tremendously in service from the time we started.”
Quinley said the clinic treats veterans of all ages who served in different conflicts. She said the youngest patient is 19 years old, and the oldest was a 99-year-old veteran who recently died.
“Their ages require different needs and expertise,” she said.
Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford commended the VA for its outreach in the community.
“This opening here today will really help the veterans in rural areas,” he said.
Tedford said his father fought during World War II and because of that, veterans have a special place in his heart, and he will do anything he can to help the vets.
Ken Paul served in the United States Marine Corps as a gunnery sergeant. A spiritual leader of Numu Tuqwasu, he blessed the building before the ceremony commenced and also offered a few comments during the dedication of the new facility. He talked briefly about his group at Pyramid Lake who come together to bring healing to veterans who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other problems.
“We’re a group of healing,” Paul said. “You’re my brothers and sisters … that’s how we think in our hearts as native men and women. In our hearts, we come together for unity of people.”
Giving the keynote address was Dr. Kurt Carlson, a physician at the Lahontan VA clinic. The eloquence of his prose presented a resonating theme of the importance of helping one another.
He led into President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address of March 4, 1865, in which he encouraged humanitarian efforts both during and after the waning days of the American Civil War.
Said Lincoln, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
When the Fallon clinic opened, Carlson said questions arose about the feasibility of having a facility in the Lahontan Valley and if the cost would be worth it. Now, the clinic serves six counties.
“Veterans came to try and to trust and then to bring the soul to the bricks and mortar,” he said. “They bonded to each other and began the enormous task of bringing peace again to their lives, and they watched out for each other.”
Carlson said the clinic began to grow and then added services, more doctors, a pharmacy and specialty clinics. Then, the clinic extended to Winnemucca, which now has its own facility. Carlson concluded his comments by describing the new Fallon clinic as home.
“For many, this structure is beautiful, and for others, this structure may be too sterile, too impersonal. A house is just a building, but when the building has a family, it becomes a home,” he said. “We’ll continue to give this structure a soul, a spirit of camaraderie — a place of feeling and peace.”