Military veterans, politicians and civic groups battled for more than six years to bring a Veterans Affairs health clinic to the City of Statesboro.
Tuesday, their efforts were rewarded.
In a morning ceremony on Northside Drive East, the Statesboro Primary Care Clinic, a branch of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, hosted its grand opening.
More than 100 people gathered to celebrate and tour the state-of-the-art Telehealth Outpatient Clinic, which will offer primary-care services to veterans of the armed forces and their families.
“This is a dream that a lot of us had, and it’s finally come true,” said Ray Hendrix, a Statesboro veteran, and governor-appointed chairman for the Georgia State Veterans Service Board, who played a key role in landing the center in Statesboro. “Hopefully this facility will treat a lot of people.”
The clinic will provide area veterans — more than 900 are already enrolled — with regular lab appointments, access to medication and immunizations, scheduled electrocardiogram screenings and various other preventative care treatments.
A small nursing staff will work within the clinic, while cameras and computer monitors connect patients, in real time, to doctors in Augusta and specialists throughout the country, according to Robert Hamilton, the director of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.
“We have been very, very anxious to bring a much-needed service to our veteran community here — to ensure them better access to care — without that long drive to Augusta,” Hamilton said. “We’re very excited about what Telehealth will offer. We are all very excited to provide this service to this community.”
Pete Scovill, the public affairs officer for the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, said the number of veterans who could potentially benefit from the Statesboro clinic is more than 5,000.
“We anticipate a robust panel, approaching 1,000 the first year, with substantial growth once the word gets out and successful treatment is considered,” he said.
Tuesday’s event marked the culmination of a major effort by local veterans and community leaders to have a clinic installed in Bulloch County.
Six years ago, Hendrix submitted a petition to representatives in Washington that demonstrated the community’s demand.
“Nearly 10,000 veterans signed the petition,” he said. “We overwhelmed them. I’ve been told by someone in Washington that one congressman turned over the petition and said it was the biggest want-list he’s ever seen.”
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., has been among the project’s most ardent supporters. He was thanked and presented a gift by the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 during the grand opening ceremony.
“I’m so proud of the efforts that have been made to bring this facility here,” Barrow said. “A very large number of folks here in Statesboro — 5,000 to 10,000 veterans and their families — will be able to benefit from the services available through the VA.
“It makes no sense in the world to have to travel a long distance just to get primary care — regular checkups and routine treatment — that we all need on a regular basis,” he continued. “That kind of health care is best made available to folks where they live. These clinics are an effort that recognizes that fact.”
For more information about the clinic — at 412 Northside Drive E., Suite 500 — individuals can call (912) 871-8719.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.