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Massena Memorial celebrates 20th anniversary of North Country Veterans’ Clinic

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MASSENA - The North Country Veterans’ Clinic can say it’s getting better with age.

That was the sentiment shared by officials who celebrated the clinic’s 20th anniversary Wednesday morning at Massena Memorial Hospital. It also marked the hospital’s recognition of May’s National Military Appreciation Month.

“Today is the day of thanking those who served and are serving our country,” Senior Director of Ancillary Services Mark P. Brouillette said.

The North Country Veterans’ Clinic came about as a result of a conversation on a plane headed to Washington, D.C., according to Richard Kazel, Syracuse Veterans Medical Center manager of medical/surgical careline.

He recalled that day in 1992 when he was in an aisle seat on the plane heading for Washington. He struck up a conversation with a gentleman across the aisle, who turned out to be then-Congressman David O.B. Martin. Mr. Kazel said their talk during their entire trip was about why no VA medical care was being provided in the north country.

“In 1992 that was very true. It was embarrassing,” he said.

Mr. Martin told Mr. Kazel two things - that he would make a promise to bring medical service to the north country and that he wouldn’t leave an official’s office in Washington until he got funding.

“I found he was a man of his word,” he said.

A few months later, the VA sent out requests for proposal for the new North Country Veterans’ Clinic, which would provide services to veterans in St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis counties.

“There was one that outshone all the other proposals. It was from Massena Memorial,” Mr. Kazel said. “We are so proud of Massena Memorial for all you’ve done the past 20 years. We’re here to serve veterans; Massena Memorial Hospital is here to serve veterans.”

The North Country Veterans’ Clinic began in 1993 with 700 square feet of space at the hospital and visits by about 200 to 300 patients a month for primary care, according to Mr. Brouillette.

“Our North Country Veterans’ Clinic has grown both in size of clinic, breadth of services and number of veterans served. Ten years ago, our monthly visits exceeded 550 visits per month for both primary care and mental health services, and today some months we see over 1,000 veteran visits in a newly equipped and furnished 3,000-square-foot clinic setting,” he said.

Overall, Mr. Brouillette said, more than 2,100 veterans are registered to received their care at the North Country Veterans’ Clinic.

“The numbers have all grown significantly” since the first patient was seen on Jan. 17, 1993, Chief Executive Officer Charles F. Fahd II told the guests who filled seats under a tent and others who were standing on the front lawn of the hospital where Wednesday’s ceremony was held.

Mr. Fahd said the original site of the North Country Veterans’ Clinic “served us well for many, many years.” But as the number of veterans seeking care grew, so did the need to expand.

With an expansion that was funded by the hospital, Mr. Fahd said they were able to provide veterans with more services, including state-of-the-art medical care and mental health services.

This summer will see another innovation - the introduction of Telehealth, which will allow veterans to meet health care professionals from Syracuse online for face to-face consultations, he said.

Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said it was “an honor for our town-owned hospital to “open the VA clinic,” and he encouraged veterans to take advantage of the services offered there.

“These services are here for you. You earned these services,” he said. “You stepped up and served this country. We can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for our country. You earned this.”

More than 13,000 veterans live within a 60-mile radius of the clinic in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.

“Sometimes I forget the scope of the service of this clinic,” Mr. Gray said.

Mayor James F. Hidy said he was honored to be present at the ceremony that not only recognized the clinic’s 20 years, but also saluted area veterans.

“I’m a proud son of a two-time enlisted Marine,” he said, noting he was also proud to be representing the village’s Board of Trustees, he said.

“I want to thank the veterans, both female and male, that served the country for the sacrifice you have made,” Mr. Hidy said.

Tina Buckley, a member of the hospital’s Board of Managers, said the services they now offer have increased greatly since the facility was first opened in 1993 offering primary care only. Now, she said, they offer a host of services including preventative, medical and mental healthcare, complete physical exams, lab tests, chest x-rays, EKGs and consults to specialists at the VA Medical Center, and Telehealth will be the next initiative this summer.

“As a member of the Board of Managers, I want to express our sincere appreciation for the veterans and the VA Clinic,” she said.

“How fortunate we are as veterans to have this clinic,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ronald A. Faucher, a member of the North Country Veterans’ Clinic Advisory Committee.

Mr. Faucher recalled how he had retired 21 years ago and, when he first sought VA health care, had to travel to Plattsburgh.

“Thank God this clinic started up when it did,” he said, expressing his gratitude for not having to drive to Plattsburgh and receiving top-notch care from the Massena staff.

But the clinic could do more business, he suggested.

“Many veterans today are not taking advantage of using this clinic. I implore you to sign up and use it. It is your right as a veteran,” Mr. Faucher said.

Those who used the service said they were appreciative of having the clinic available to them.

“We, the veterans, thank you for providing such a vital service to veterans,” Amvets Post 4 Chaplain James Baker said.

Also on hand for Wednesday’s ceremony were representatives for Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

James Reagen, representing Sen. Ritchie, read a proclamation thanking those who were involved with the clinic.

“Therefore, be it resolved, that as a duly elected member of the New York State Senate, it is my honor to join in celebrating the accomplishments of a group of dedicated health professionals who have earned the thanks and appreciation of the people of our great Empire State on the occasion of its 20th anniversary,” she wrote.




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