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NORTH BEND — The Roseburg Veterans Administration Health Care System held a veterans town hall meeting at the North Bend VA Clinic on Tuesday evening.  Interim medical director David Whitmer addressed a packed room of concerned citizens on an array of issues and updates.

Among one of the most pressing issues regarding the recent decrease in medical providers, Whitmer informed attendees that the hospital has secured three live medical providers for the North Bend clinic. The staff includes a physician who will continue to work roughly another six weeks until he is cleared to transfer to another hospital in Florida.

The second position is being held by a physician who has already committed to a 90-day contract with the clinic and a third physician is also expected to come in, although it is unclear what their timeframe will be. All three medical providers are expected to be practicing together by the end of September.

In the meeting, Whitmer noted the addition of a Telehealth service provider, who will act as the fourth overall physician for the clinic. Telehealth is a real-time interactive video conferencing program that allows physicians to consult with patients from a remote location. The provider conferencing through the service will actually be based out of Boise, Idaho.

During a question and answer portion of the meeting, a community member did raise his concern about the effectiveness of the Telehealth provider and was unsure exactly how it worked. Dr. Todd Queire, chief of primary care at the Roseburg VA Health Care System, said the system works in conjunction with the clinic’s existing nursing staff to aid along with any physical components of the exam.

However, most of the consultation will be done by talking through the patient’s symptoms and medical history. Queire also added the service allows for physicians to be able to hear a patient’s heart beat through an electronic stethoscope and as well as evaluate their breathing.

As the meeting continued, Whitmer discussed a possible expansion to the clinic to be completed in phases beginning in early 2020. According to Whitmer, the lease has already been extended to allow for their staff to continue assessing the building to see what the potential growth will look like.

“I did get a chance to talk to our strategic planner and the likely scenario is for us is to actually expand this particular space,” said Whitmer. “This space wasn’t designed to what we call our PAC standard, which is our primary care standards.”

According to Whitmer, the expansion will take about six-to-12 months to complete. The interim director also informed the room of a few more updates including the upcoming VA Mission Act, which was signed by President Trump in June, to expand the use of private-sector healthcare to veterans outside the VA system.

“It’s going to be a yearlong process when it is implemented,” said Whitmer.  “This would give you many more choices to get health care locally. We already started to establish what we call “relationship mangers” with Bay Area Hospital and other local hospitals.”

As the meeting transitioned to the audience for questions, veterans in the crowd got the change to voice their opinions on the running operations of the clinic. Among the frustrations raised was the VA’s lack of communication in notifying patients when a physician exited the clinic and its large turnaround.

One veteran suggested the VA leadership staff conduct exit interviews and figure out the exact reasons physicians have been leaving the area. Another veteran talked about higher volume hospitals like those in Roseburg or Eugene potentially recruiting physicians from the area. He also spoke of feeling like the patients at the North Bend VA clinic because it is smaller capacity as not being a top priority.

Whitmer replied with their office’s continued efforts to recruit and retain future physicians to the area. Although, he pointed out several times the doctors do have free will and could transfer or move to another hospital if outside of their contractual agreement.

“When we recruit a doctor we pay for their moving expenses,” said Whitmer. “We also put them in temporary housing for 90 days while they search for housing. It’s a fairly big investment that you make when you transition one doctor from one area to another.”

The town hall concluded with talks of evaluating the county’s urgent care needs and figuring out the best ways to address them on a limited operating budget.

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