Dr. Grady Paden said the high demand for a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic was clear back when a handful of nurses and doctors worked out of a mobile trailer in the Skagit Valley Hospital parking lot.
Paden, a VA physician who works primarily out of Seattle, said everyone wanted to be seen at the shaky trailer in a parking lot once word got out the Department of Veterans Affairs had established a mobile clinic in Mount Vernon.
“Immediately people caught on, and we started getting drop-in patients,” Paden said.
Paden said he knew the next appointment had arrived as soon as his patient stepped onto the trailer.
“The whole trailer would rock,” Paden said. “I miss the trailer actually.”
But the impromptu outpatient clinic outgrew the trailer, and then it outgrew its temporary location at United General Hospital.
So Paden and a small army of military veterans gathered with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, Thursday morning to dedicate the new Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic on the second and third floors of the Mount Vernon Medical Building.
Paden now sees his patients from Northwest Washington every couple weeks at a fully staffed and equipped medical office.
The $1.6 million clinic sits just across the street from Skagit Valley Hospital on North 13th Street. Veterans Affairs has already started treating almost 3,000 people there, and expects to eventually have 6,500 patients from Northwest Washington transferred to the clinic. Before, patients drove down to clinics in Seattle for treatment.
The clinic will pay an $800,000 lease each year for the space to the Skagit Medical Building. The construction was paid for by Veterans Affairs, with assistance from a 2007 appropriations bill that included money for the outpatient center.
The facility works with five full- and part-time doctors, five nurses and other support staff, but Nurse Manager Sue Passalacqua said the facility will soon hire a psychologist, pharmacist and women’s health specialist.
Passalacqua added that the outpatient clinic currently offers primary care, but will eventually expand and offer dental and psychiatric care.
Jim Pace, an army veteran who served in Vietnam, said he and other veterans had been working to get an outpatient clinic in Mount Vernon since 1995.
Pace is the senior service officer for the Veterans Affairs office in Bellingham. He said shifts in politics set the project back, but he and others persisted.
“It was going to happen. I’m just disappointed in the time it took,” Pace said. “We are very happy that this facility has been established.”
Passalacqua said the new facility is ideal for the clinic’s patient population. The equipment caters to the elderly and disabled, with larger chairs and beds in exam rooms and ceiling-mounted lifting devices to help patients who are unable to get out of wheelchairs.
Passalacqua said the new facility is a far cry from the trailer she worked in when she first came to the clinic.
“You can do medical anywhere,” Passalacqua said. “It’s just a matter of now we have a more elaborate environment.”
Murray praised the timeliness of the dedication, exactly one year to the day after the initial groundbreaking and right before a national holiday.
“On the eve of the Fourth of July, what a great thing to be doing to say ‘thank you’ to all of our veterans,” Murray said.
- Skagit Valley Herald