New Havre VA clinic shows impressive capabilities


Last updated 1/15/2021 at 12:25pm

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

A door at the new location of the Merril Lundman Veterans Outpatient Clinic, opening Wednesday, looks out onto the common area at the Holiday Village Mall.

The Merril Lundman Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic's new location is less than a week from opening, on Inauguration Day, and features a myriad of improvements over it's previous location that aim to make the experience of both patients and providers more efficient and enjoyable.

Clinic Manager Raymond Tierney said the new location is not only triple the size of the old location, but designed to make comprehensive care easier with specialists on staff and more tools at their disposal.

The clinic is designed around the VA's Patient Aligned Care Team - PACT - model and is only the second of its kind in the state, with the first opening in Great Falls.

The PACT model was created to improve collaboration between on-site health care providers of various disciplines in order to address individual patients more comprehensively, addressing multiple problems at once, without the veteran having to even leave the room.

Tierney said the clinic is now fully wireless and all staff have laptops, making everything more mobile and convenient.

The facility also features a number of upgrades from the previous location, including a lab that can be used for on-site blood work and other tests will cut down on wait time for results and eliminate the need for patients to go off-site.

"This is a huge win for us, a big improvement," Tierney said. "Originally, we had to send our veterans to Bullhook (Community Health Center) to get labs and they'd be sent to Fort Harrison to render results. ... We're becoming a patient's true medical home."

It also features a specialized women's health room which is significantly larger and features a built-in bathroom and other necessary amenities to care for female veterans' needs.

The clinic will also have a full-time M.D. on staff, Dr. Lary Stieglitz, who moved to Havre just two months ago.

He said the new location will definitely make a big difference for him and the other staff as well as the patients.

"It will be a much nicer experience for the veterans," he said.

Registered Nurse Care Manager Teri Matosich, who worked at the previous location since its opening in 2009, said she's very excited about this new location, which will make collaboration easier.

"This is very exciting for me because I've been in that small clinic trying to juggle patients and their care needs in such a limited space," Matosich said.

Tierney said the facility also includes a primary care team room for collaboration and morning meetings, a dedicated room for education groups on things like diabetes, heart disease, and exercise programs, and a break room for staff.

He said there will still be some cases when veterans will need to see specialists outside of the facility, but with the upgrades that will happen less and less.

Mental health

One of the big improvements is the fact that Mental Health Social Worker Sharon Dolph, who used to work from home or at Northern Montana Health Care, can now work on-site and collaborate with others when working with a patient.

Dolph said her job will change significantly, especially with people being able to meet face-to-face when the pandemic lifts.

"I've been working with this team for years, but not being in the same building as them. So it's going to be revolutionary for me," she said.

Matosich was also excited about what the facility will do for the VA's iFrontier program, a network of mental health providers that can rapidly respond to veterans in the midst of mental health crisis.

"Do they need a med adjustment, do they need a counselor, do they need substance abuse help? The longest it has ever taken for them, the absolute longest, is 12 minutes until they're talking with our veterans," she said.

No longer, she said, do they have to be sent to the hospital for many of these things now that the VA can take care their unique needs and follow-up with them.


Tierney said the space has also provided the infrastructure for expanded telehealth services.

He said telehealth is a big deal for veterans in rural America, and the VA has been very supportive of expanding efforts to improve and expand their services in the form of a dedicated room for said services.

Telehealth Supervisor Tracy Poryear said this dedicated room for will cover neural/sleep, endocrinology, rumitology, pain, cardiac rehab, OBGYN, wound care, and mental health with audiology, dental and retinal coming down the line.

She said within the next six months, they are looking to hire a telehealth clinical technician.

Expansion and collaboration

The clinic serves five counties and 500 veterans, but Tierney said he suspects that number will go up with this new improved space.

He said there have already been people asking to transfer their care from Great Falls to Havre, and he suspects more will come when they hear about it.

"The momentum has started ... The move into this great facility plus an on-site provider, I mean the wheels are turning," he said.

He said he hopes the veterans like the new clinic and its improved atmosphere enough to spread knowledge of it by word of mouth.

Tierney said the old location just wasn't very inviting, and compared to the new clinic it's night and day, particularly the waiting area which features a plaque of the the clinic's namesake Merril Lundman, who fought to get a VA clinic in Havre before his death in 2007 at age 64, just a month before the original clinic's opening was announced.

He said he's hoping a side effect of the facility might also be helping the mall.

Tierney said business owners in the building have already gotten in touch, looking for collaboration opportunities, which he said are being explored.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

He also said he's looking forward to the COVID-19 vaccination clinic they will be holding on Jan 21.

He said the clinic has called all of their patients and encouraged everyone of them to get vaccinated, not just to protect themselves but others.


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