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VA clinic construction under way in Saranac Lake

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The first concrete has been poured for a new veterans' clinic in Saranac Lake. Officials hope to be able open the center early next year, despite a contract delay that held work up for part of the summer building season.

The new clinic downtown on Depot St. is one of two now under construction to serve veterans in the region.

HES Ventures is overseeing the building's construction and will lease the property to the Department of Veterans Affairs under a contract finalized in August. Chris Morris has more.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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The Samuel S. Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany will oversee the Saranac Lake clinic. Albany spokesman Peter Potter says crews have also begun work in Westport on a new clinic serving residents of the greater Elizabethtown area.

Potter notes that both facilities follow the community based outreach center model and will offer a wide range of services – including new technology that will cut down on travel for veterans.

"Each of them will have primary care and we also offer behavioral health," he said. "One of the things we're doing at both locations is 'tele-health.' In some cases, patients might have to travel to Albany. But now with tele-health, you speak to the doctor at the clinic. They have cameras right there so the patient can interface and interact with the doctors. It's no longer necessary for a patient to travel down to Albany for an appointment that can be conducted with this technology that we have."

He adds that the tele-health system is particularly helpful for behavioral health appointments, although both clinics will have a mental health specialist on-site.

Potter says the community-based outreach program has worked wonders for veterans care – especially in rural areas like the Adirondack North Country.

"We've got these large areas and to expect veterans to come to the big hospitals is ridiculous," he said. "You need to be able to provide the care where folks live."

Potter credits Frank Karl, an Onchiota resident and adjutant of VFW Post 3357 in Saranac Lake, for successfully leading the charge to bring a VA clinic to the Tri-Lakes.

"This is a huge opportunity to reach what Frank estimates about 4,500 veterans," he said. "Some of those vets were traveling an hour and 20 minutes, and hour and 40 minutes. I'm a veteran, and I don't know if I'd travel that far to get health care."

Potter and Karl both encountered their fair share of pessimists along the way. Potter says many lost hope that the center wouldn't come to fruition – he blames that on bureaucracy.

"That's the government contract process," he said. "But in a way, that's a good thing, because you know it's been vetted through the system and it's spending taxpayer dollars the best way they can be spent. Everyone on this project has crossed their t's and dotted their i's."

Dan Reilly of HES Ventures – the corporation overseeing the clinic's construction – says the project should be complete by December of January, weather permitting.

Potter is optimistic that the center will be open for business early in 2011.

Chris Morris for North Country Public Radio.

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