Serving veterans

Telehealth counselor Donald Romero smiles while sitting in his office.

ALAMOSA — The San Luis Valley is a beautiful region in south-central Colorado with an average elevation of 7,664 feet and a cold desert climate.

The Valley is picturesque, with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve nestled at the foot of the usually snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Range. Just down the road from the park is the City of Alamosa, featuring a VA Clinic that is small but mighty.

During fiscal year 2019, more than 1,100 veterans used the Alamosa clinic, completing 6,200-plus outpatient visits. Good things are happening at the Alamosa clinic, and the team of dedicated employees is at the heart of that progress.

The in-house Alamosa team consists of a primary care provider, a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse, two telehealth technicians, a medical support assistant and a licensed professional mental health counselor. The clinic also has remote staff, like audiologist Diane Brady, who serves veterans from her home office.

Because Alamosa is a small city, the staff are well known and often run into their veterans at the local grocery store or gas station. Most of the staff even grew up in or near Alamosa. Telehealth tech Debra Martinez said, “I’ve had veterans come up to me at the store and ask me to make them an appointment. It feels like family here.”

Two of the staff members, telehealth tech Brandon Snow and counselor 

Donald Romero, are veterans themselves, and most of the others have veterans in their families. Everyone is dedicated to their work and really enjoy what they do.

Snow, a former Navy corpsman, said, “I love being able to help other veterans, to get to know them. It’s a different kind of relationship because we’re so small here.”

Snow recently started traveling to the nearby State Veterans Community Living Center on Monday mornings to offer hearing aid services. “I pack up my gear and take our audiologist with me remotely. We help an average of five veterans each Monday, which saves them from having to travel to our clinic.”

“I love working with fellow vets,” Romero agreed. “It doesn’t really feel like work, if that makes sense.”

He was an Army infantryman, and now uses that experience to connect with his mental health patients. “We went through a lot of the same things, and that helps build trust. I know what it’s like to eat MREs all the time. I know what it’s like to be deployed. They know I get it.”

Romero went on, “I enjoy working in Alamosa because it’s my hometown.”

For those that don’t know, telehealth is much like a traditional health care appointment. If a veteran has a telehealth appointment at Alamosa, they would go to the clinic, sign in and have a seat in the waiting room. A nurse would come to greet the vet and take them to one of four exam rooms to check vitals and talk about the reason for the visit, but that is where traditional ends and progressive health care begins.

A telehealth tech enters the exam room and outlines their role in the appointment, connecting the veteran online with the telehealth provider, who appears on a screen.

From there, the tech essentially acts as the provider’s hands and assists with the instructed care from the monitor.  These techs and the nurse use a variety of tools to help the provider see inside ears and throats, listen to hearts and lungs, check blood pressure and other tasks, just like an in-house provider does.

The provider looks at the results on screen and then instructs the tech and nurse what to do next, until the end of the appointment.

The process may seem strange to those who’ve never had a telehealth appointment, but many veterans said it’s not much different than having a provider in the room. Romero said, “I provide mental health counseling to veterans in remote locations via something like Skype or Facetime on a screen. I can see and hear the vet, and he or she can see and hear me.”

Romero thinks more appointments will be done via telehealth in the future. “It’s a great tool, especially since we live out in rural Colorado, and the weather can be bad,” he added.

Whether veterans come to the Alamosa clinic for an in-person visit or a telehealth appointment with a remote provider, they will be met with a friendly health care experience, where sense of community is proud and prevalent.

From time to time, veterans on vacation in the San Luis Valley stop into the clinic with questions or requests and the staff does what they can to help. It’s all part of that small-town charm.

If you’d like to learn more about the VA Alamosa Outpatient Clinic, visit https://www.denver.va.gov/locations/Alamosa.asp

Story courtesy of Jamie Mobley.

Press release courtesy of Brandy Morrison | U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, EA to the Director (Acting), Public Affairs Officer |VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System.

         

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