Last Modified: Friday, August 08, 2014 9:48 AM
LEESVILLE — No day is a regular day at Fort Polk’s Community Based Outpatient Clinic, said administrative officer Lawrence DeVoto. Most mornings DeVoto, the newly installed chief of the clinic, tries to feel out his staff and get a read on how the workload is getting to them.
The clinic provides primary care to nearly 2,500 veterans in the area and has had more than 35,000 visits and referrals since it opened in November 2011. DeVoto said his goal is to be able to serve even more veterans, but that he must find an additional primary care provider first.
“If I can get a third provider here, it would be glorious,” he said.
The primary care staff has two providers covering all of its general medicine appointments — one doctor and one nurse practitioner. The workload can be intense, DeVoto said, and doctors will occasionally need a day to refresh or a few hours blocked out to catch up. But the providers are not alone. Much of the care is padded with the help of licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, but even they sometimes feel stretched.
“(The veteran) has waited on us to get here. So we try to not make them wait any longer. We try to take a holistic approach,” said LPN Laci Rodriguez, who said that despite the lack of providers, nurses are usually available to help.
DeVoto said he has had trouble being able to recruit doctors because of bureaucratic systems in place that hamper the hiring process. He said he has hopes that the $16.3 billion VA overhaul bill will aid in this process, giving him more direct hiring capabilities. But it will take time before changes brought on by the bill, signed into law Thursday, will be felt in Leesville.
Still, DeVoto insisted, no veteran will ever be turned away at the clinic.
“I’m not going to tell you to just leave. I’m going to try to help you with it,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve been trying to impart on the staff, is that the staff is not allowed to say no to the veterans. Their job is to find out how.”
Perception has been some of the problem, DeVoto said. Some veterans have heard that getting an appointment is impossible and that the clinic isn’t taking new patients. Other veterans expect a burdensome wait for an appointment and make the drive to Alexandria’s full-service VA hospital, despite being closer to the Fort Polk clinic.
DeVoto said patients believe the clinic is a full-service hospital and are disappointed when they are referred elsewhere. Veterans who suspect they will need an X-ray, for example, won’t be able to receive that kind of care at the clinic.
But veterans can more conveniently get a referral to a care facility that can give them the help they need if they are signed up with My HealtheVet. The online service allows veterans to send messages to their providers, refill prescriptions, view or change appointments, and access other health services.
DeVoto said he is no stranger to the challenges faced by veterans in need of medical or psychological attention. A 15-year U.S. Army veteran himself, DeVoto medically retired from his position as a captain in the 162nd Infantry Brigade at Fort Polk. He said he still has had trouble with his VA claims.
Since his time manning the clinic, DeVoto said he is most proud of the ability of the clinic to get patients in the door. The clinic is able to get 95 percent of all patients an appointment within a week’s time.
Both his and the clinic’s success are measured, he said, by what happens when the doors close for the day.
“I think a great (administrative officer) is someone that takes care of the veterans and the clinic and just focuses on that,” he said. “Whatever the review says, I know I’ve been successful if at the end of the day every veteran that came in the clinic was taken care of, in one way or another.”