New Bedford Veterans Clinic offers mental health, primary care


NEW BEDFORD – Veterans have their say on the community-based ambulance services at City Hall on August 11th.

That New Bedford CBOC is an extension of the services of the VA Providence Healthcare System. For veterans who cannot or do not want to travel to Providence for outpatient treatment, CBOCS clinics are part of a “hub-and-spoke system” in an area easily accessible to veterans, said Lawrence Connell, director of the VA Providence Healthcare System.

With more than 3,000 veterans enrolled at New Bedford Clinic, on-site treatments have been offered for primary care, mental health, audiology, physical therapy and occupational therapy. For more serious problems that require additional advice, clinicians take photos of the medical problem and “beam” it straight to the main Providence hospital.

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The clinic’s annual town hall on Aug. 11 is part of a VA policy that gives veterans the opportunity to meet the director, discuss the veteran’s benefits, and ask questions. The VA encourages veterans to contact them directly for a face-to-face discussion about specific individual health issues, but are allowed to ask general and COVID-19-related questions.

“It’s important that we go where the veterans are instead of dragging them to Providence,” Connell said. “I go to them and bring technical experts with me.”

Connell said one of the biggest concerns for New Bedford veterans was the shuttle system during COVID-19 and how they might find transportation to the clinic. The only other complaint from veterans is the lack of knowledge that these pop-up clinics exist.

When COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, clinics masked and screened all patients before entering the buildings. Connell said if it wasn’t an urgent matter, they asked veterans to call prior to arrival to see if the condition could be addressed remotely, either by phone call or by sending a photo for further investigation. With the Delta variant on the rise, Connell said all VA employees need a vaccine. Currently over 90% of employees are fully vaccinated. If employees choose not to receive the vaccine, President Biden’s new ordinance for federal employees requires them to wear a mask and get tested for COVID-19 weekly.

“Veterans are comfortable coming here,” Connell said. “More employees are concerned about other unvaccinated employees.”

Vaccines will continue to be offered in veteran clinics. Although most older populations are fully vaccinated by this time, those who wish to receive a vaccine can request a dose and make an appointment for the next day.

Connell says approximately 94% of patients in the Providence VA trust the care they receive. For each of the CBOCs, 10 staff from both the Providence VA and Providence Veterans Benefits Administration are on hand to support those who have performed their service in every possible way.

The New Bedford CBOC, formerly a US post office, was acquired by the VA Providence Healthcare System in 1995 with a formal tape average on August 26, 1996, according to John J. Loughlin III, Providence VA Public Affairs Officer. The clinic was renovated in its current form in 2014 and is located in Elmstr. 175 next to the town hall.

Kerri Tallman, Standard Times contributor, can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ktallman_SCT for links to the latest articles.

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