MARTINSVILLE, Va. (WFXR) — Southside Virginia veterans will soon have easy access to quality healthcare through a pilot telehealth service in Martinsville, Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Thursday.

According to a statement released by Northam’s office on Thursday, Sept. 16, the partnership between the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Salem Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System will establish a new point of access at the Martinsville Health Department for telehealth services provided by the U.S. Veterans Health Administration.

This will reportedly be the first time that a local Virginia health district will offer access to telehealth services from the Veterans Health Administration.

“As a veteran and a physician, I know the VA provides needed care to veterans. But sometimes it can be challenging for veterans in some parts of the Commonwealth to access that care,” said Northam. “That’s why we’re excited to announce this telehealth opportunity for veterans in Southsidemaking it easier for Southside veterans to receive critical health care closer to home.”

Officials say the new site at the Martinsville Health Department uses a “telehealth-in-a-box” model, which is also utilized by the Salem VA Health Care System at several sites in their region. The Veterans Health Administration will hire a registered nurse to conduct quality health assessments before and during the exam for the physician connected remotely to the veteran patient. 

According to Thursday’s statement, the two-year pilot partnership will enable telehealth appointments between eligible veterans and their Veterans Health Administration Patient Aligned Care Team providers or Veterans Health Administration specialists, which means the veteran will not have to to travel significant distances for the appointments or face difficulties connecting to the internet.

“We are excited about the partnership between the Commonwealth and the Veterans Administration and look forward to seeing this pilot site reduce barriers for Southside veterans,” Acting Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Kathleen Jabs said. “This telehealth partnership will serve veterans and measure its success in order to replicate it in other areas of the Commonwealth.”

Even before the pandemic, telehealth services provided by the Veterans Health Administration have seen a significant increase in usage and requests, officials say. From 2018 to 2020, the number of appointments made by veteran patients enrolled in Veterans Health Administration healthcare increased by 200 percent.

“Telehealth is a means toward overcoming substantial transportation barriers for veterans who may live a significant distance from their Veterans Health Administration provider,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey. “This partnership further reduces socio-economic barriers that may exist and prevent a veteran from accessing telehealth in their homes and communities.”

The governor’s office says that enhanced points of access — like this one in Martinsville — will reduce barriers to those veterans who do not have the means to connect with their provider remotely.

“We’ve been providing mobile telehealth at the Salem Veterans Affairs Health Care System since January 2020,” said Salem VA Health Care System Executive Director Rebecca Stackhouse. “This new agreement will allow us to continue our healthcare outreach to veterans across the 26 counties of Southwest Virginia we serve, and make it more convenient for our nation’s heroes to access quality medical care.”

Veterans who would like to learn more about this opportunity and schedule telehealth appointments at this clinic are encouraged to speak with their Veterans Health Administration primary care Patient Aligned Care Team providers. Those veterans also must be enrolled in Veterans Health Administration healthcare. Additional services, such as mental health, may also be offered at this clinic. 

If you want to learn more about the services that are offered through this telehealth program , you are asked to reach out to the mobile telehealth registered nurse, Jeanine Bomber, or Facility Telehealth Coordinator Lindsay Gill at 540-855-5090.

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