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Plans move forward for new veterans clinic
Bigger facility in the works to ease overcrowding at Oakwood site
Vietnam War Navy veteran Gustav Richter, 66, has his blood pressure taken Friday by licensed practical nurse Donna Anema at the Hall County Veterans Clinic in Oakwood. The clinic is getting closer to its goal of moving to a larger facility. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For and against a Nopone Road library

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At the overcrowded Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Oakwood, help is on the way.

The Oakwood clinic has exceeded its capacity and officials have had to close its doors to new patients while demand for VA medical services is on the rise, said Gary Bratcher, a registered nurse who has worked at the Oakwood clinic for more than seven years.

“We’re beginning to see more and more veterans using the health care system,” Bratcher said.

Newly-returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan with health care needs are sharing waiting rooms with Vietnam-era baby boomers who are now in their late 60s.

“We’re getting a different mix,” Bratcher said.

Relief of the overcrowding will come soon from a new VA clinic opening in September in Blairsville. It will take on patients from far North Georgia and the Carolinas, while a more long-term project will eventually result in a newer and much bigger clinic in South Hall.

Proposals for the new South Hall VA clinic, projected to be nearly four times the size of the current 4,500-square-foot facility, could be solicited in the fall. Construction probably won’t start until sometime in fiscal year 2012, which begins in October 2011, said Devin Harrison, a community based outpatient clinic coordinator for the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

A location has not been selected, but the department is considering an area between Dawsonville Highway to the north and Lights Ferry Road to the south, according to a legal notice.

About 4,500 patients now are assigned to the Oakwood clinic. They come not just from the U.S. House 9th District’s 13-county area, but also from South Carolina and North Carolina, said Bratcher.

The clinics are supposed to be geographically dispersed so that no veteran has to drive more than 50 miles, but that hasn’t been the case lately. Some Hall County veterans who can’t get into the Oakwood clinic are driving to Athens and Decatur.

Architects are finalizing a space plan for the facility, which officials hope will be outfitted with new medical services currently unavailable at the Oakwood clinic, including podiatry and optometry, Harrison said.

“The goal is to make the Oakwood clinic as accessible as possible for all patients as far as primary care as well as specialties,” Harrison said.

“The biggest benefit to a bigger clinic is we’ll be able to accommodate a patient in a more efficient manner,” Bratcher said.

Until then, officials look to September to relieve some of the crowding at the Oakwood clinic.

“That will help pull quite a few of the northern people,” Bratcher said.

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