New VA clinic opens at Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation

Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation CEO Joseph Engelken signs the agreement for a VA clinic at the hospital while Lynette Bonar and Violet Skinner look on. Photo/NHO

Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation CEO Joseph Engelken signs the agreement for a VA clinic at the hospital while Lynette Bonar and Violet Skinner look on. Photo/NHO

TUBA CITY, Ariz. - A new veterans administration clinic in Tuba City seeks to enhance access to healthcare for Native Americans veterans who live in remote areas on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

The grand opening of the clinic took place Sept. 23 at Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation (TCRHCC).

As the result of a partnership with the VA Office of Rural Health (ORH), Northern Arizona VA Healthcare System (NAVAHCS) and the hospital, and after three years of work, the agreement was signed Jan. 17 to establish a VA staffed primary care telehealth outpatient clinic within Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation's campus.

Rod Sepulveda, rural health program coordinator for the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System, said the agreement allows VA staff to provide services to eligible veterans on the Tuba City campus.

"I think it is very important because a lot of our veterans do not have access to reliable transportation or the means to actually make that journey to either Prescott or Flagstaff, Sepulveda said. "By providing local access, we are encouraging them to come in as soon as they start feeling ill and that can help prevent the disease process moving forward."

Because of the space and resource sharing agreement, veterans are now able to schedule primary care appointments with VA providers at the Tuba City VA clinic, get lab work done, receive medications and see available specialty services in the same facility, eliminating the need for a four hour one way trip to Flagstaff or Prescott.

Veterans who want to be seen by the VA providers must be signed up with the VA. But veterans do have a choice. They can be seen though the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation and the VA reimburses the hospital for the services it provides those veterans, which means it increases revenue and the operation budget for the hospital so that it can provide more services.

Sepulveda said that practice started as a Indian Health Service and VA agreement signed in December 2012.

The healthcare center worked with the Prescott VA to train its staff, case managers and department directors directly involved with veterans care to make sure the training was tailored to the population that TCRHCC serves. The training focused on understanding what resources are available for veterans through the VA health system and how to access those resources.

Sepulveda said the he encourages veterans to sign up for their benefits whether they choose the VA or the hospital.

"The reality is we reimburse the Tuba City facility, so whichever they choose, that brings money into the community, it helps the entire community by them signing up," Sepulveda said.

He said rural veterans have been asking for services closer to them for a long time and, now that the services are there, he hopes veterans will use them.

"The goal really is to increase access," Sepulveda said.

There are other sites also that provide VA care to rural veterans: the VA clinic in the Chinle hospital, Tsalie and Pinon, Tuba City and services just started in Kayenta. Once a week services are provided at the Hopi Helath Care Center through a mobile clinic.

"Their goal is to reach out to veterans in rural communities and that is why the Office of Rural Health takes such an important role in this," Sepulveda said.


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