Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is moving forward with its plans to open a VA clinic in Havre, but the timeline for opening the clinic is unsure. Teresa Bell, public information officer for the VA Montana Healthcare System, said the VA has offered a position to a physican and registered nurse to work at a VA-staffed clinic in Havre and is negotiating a lease to house the clinic, although she said she could not comment on specifics. “We would be leasing space in Havre,” she said. The issue of a local VA clinic came to the forefront more than a year ago when a Havre veteran started a drive to urge opening such a clinc. Merrill Lundman, upset when Havre was passed over while clinics were approved for Lewistown and Cut Bank, started a petition drive on the Hi-Line to show support for a Havre clinic. Veterans in Montana can use their benefits to help pay for services provided at VA clinics and at the VA hospital in Fort Harrison near Helena. The nearest clinics now in operation are in Great Falls, Glasgow and the clinic in Cut Bank, which opened this year. Lundman submitted the petitions and letters requesting a Havre clinic to Montana’s Congressional delegation, the governor and state and federal VA officials. Less than a month after Lundman died on Dec. 22, the VA announced it would open a clinic in Havre. The plan originally was to have a contract clinic, where local health care providers would contract to provide the services to veterans. VA opened the project with requests for proposals in May, and several providers including Northern Montana Hospital and Bullhook Community Health Center applied. After stating a decision was planned by Aug. 1, the VA announced later in August it was withdrawing the request for proposals and was reviewing if a VA-staffed clinic would be the best option. Bell said that is the route the VA has decided to go. She said the time it will take to open the clinic will depend on how long it takes to find a space, build the infrastructure and hire and train the staff. The clinic will be similar to the new operations in Lewistown, Bell said. That clinic opened in July. The Havre clinic will have a doctor and nurse and a clerk, with possibly another position such as a technician. Bell said that the amount of staff could be increased in the future if the need were there. “That’s always up for discussion at some point, after looking at the clinic over a period of time, looking at the workload and services that are in that area,” she said.