New VA primary care clinic has grand opening

Wound care began there in April, and full facility starts accepting patients Monday

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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Did You Know?

In January 1946, following the end of World War II, the number of beds at Barnes General Hospital in the Vancouver Barracks was reduced from 1,502 to 100; the staff was reduced from 1,056 personnel to 126.

The hospital had been named for Dr. Joseph Barnes, who was an army surgeon at Fort Vancouver when the Civil War started. Promoted to surgeon general, he was at Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed on April 15, 1865.

In May 1946, President Harry Truman authorized the transfer of the Army hospital to what was then the Veterans Administration.

Ron Holcomb used a walker to get up to the podium, but he still has his legs.

And that was why the Navy veteran made his debut as a public speaker Wednesday. Holcomb was among those who cut the ribbon to a new primary care clinic on Vancouver’s Veterans Affairs campus.

The primary care facility will start accepting patients on Monday, but a wound-care clinic that will be housed there opened in April.

“The demand has been incredible,” said Karen Martin, clinic operations manager.

That’s what brought Holcomb to Vancouver a few months ago, and it’s what brought him to the microphone Wednesday.

“I’ve never been in front of a mic in my whole life,” said Holcomb, who described himself as a man of few words. But he wanted to let people know about the staff at the wound-care clinic.

“They saved my legs,” Holcomb said.

Gina Green said she and her father moved from Oregon to an apartment in Vancouver to get treatment for his ulcerated legs.

“We thought his legs were gone,” the veteran’s daughter said.

Holcomb, 76, served as a shipfitter on the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga during the 1950s. Ironically, Holcomb didn’t need that walker Wednesday because of his legs: It was the result of an injury the former sailor suffered the last time he was out on the water.

“I hurt my back Sunday driving a boat” on the Columbia River, Holcomb said.

At 21,340 square feet, the new clinic will be twice the size of the current clinic. And, the clinic was built so it could expand to meet increasing needs of the future. The Vancouver division reported what it calls about 20,000 primary-care encounters in 2010, a number that climbed to about 24,700 in 2016.

“Opening the doors to this clinic moves this country one step closer to keeping its promise to the men and women who have served,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “The care our veterans receive is the care they’ve earned.”

And, “This will expand mental health resources for veterans in the community,” Murray added.

Most mental-health services are provided in a primary-care setting, said Amy Romberg, a mental health manager at the Vancouver VA site. Veterans who are uncomfortable in a mental-health setting seem to feel better when those service are integrated into their primary care.

That is reflected in staffing additions that will include a social worker and two psychologists who will be able to provide same-day service, Romberg said.

The clinic was built on the site of what had been a transit stop, just south of the entrance off Fourth Plain Boulevard.