Medical, political stars, WWII hero, 99, converge for first look of Worcester's new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic

·5 min read
The Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic opened Monday on the UMass Chan Medical School campus in Worcester.
The Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic opened Monday on the UMass Chan Medical School campus in Worcester.

WORCESTER — The stars were out at Monday’s celebratory opening of a new $90 million building at the UMass Chan Medical School.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were there. So was Denis McDonough, the U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs.

All had speaking parts to mark the completion of the impressive four-story building, however, their participation was focused on its first two floors.

Those floors comprise a 48,000-square-foot partnership between the medical school and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Called the Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, the facility's mission is to provide a range of health care services to the nearly 17,000 enrolled military veterans in the Worcester area.

U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough speaks at the opening of a new VA outpatient clinic on the UMass Chan Medical School campus Monday in Worcester.
U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough speaks at the opening of a new VA outpatient clinic on the UMass Chan Medical School campus Monday in Worcester.

Plus, train the next generation of medical professionals to care for veterans.

McGovern was credited by several speakers with being the driving force behind the clinic.

“We have an obligation to honor those who served. The work at this clinic will honor veterans, far more than words can,” McGovern said.

Scheduled to fully open and begin treating patients Dec. 15, the clinic is expected to serve roughly 7,000 veterans annually.

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The new building at 403 Belmont St. next to the UMass Chan Medical School replaces the VA’s current Lincoln Street facility.

The VA's specialty clinic at the UMass Medicine Science Park on 377 Plantation St. for patients requiring podiatry, audiology and optometry services will remain at its current site.

Special participant

Earl Zink attended Monday’s ceremony.

Unknown to some, compared to the political and medical dignitaries in attendance to mark Monday’s occasion, Zink may best represent the new clinic that overlooks Lake Quinsigamond.

World War II veteran Earl Zink, 99, listens to speakers during the opening of the Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic on the UMass Chan Medical School campus Monday in Worcester.
World War II veteran Earl Zink, 99, listens to speakers during the opening of the Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic on the UMass Chan Medical School campus Monday in Worcester.

“It’s great. It’s going to be nice for veterans,” said Zink, a 99-year-old U.S. Navy veteran of World War II. “They’ll be able to do everything here. It’s wonderful.”

Zink actually has a strong connection to the medical school. He’s the grandfather of Kye Flotte, who is married to Dr. Terence Flotte, the school’s dean.

“The clinic will increase access to care. That’s number one,” said Dr. Flotte, whose father was a World War II veteran, and brother served in the Vietnam War.

Two reasons for the clinic

Standing in the clinic's lobby, UMass Chan Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins divulged the building's $90 million price tag. Then he gave two reasons why he — and others — dedicated years to achieving the building’s completion.

The first was a family connection.

A new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic was opened on the UMass Chan Medical School campus, where speakers included, Dr. Terence R. Flotte, left, Dean of the T.H. Chan School of Medicine; Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.
A new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic was opened on the UMass Chan Medical School campus, where speakers included, Dr. Terence R. Flotte, left, Dean of the T.H. Chan School of Medicine; Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.

Back when Collins was a third-year medical student, he trained at the Boston VA Hospital in Jamaica Plain. The same hospital where Collins’ late father, Francis — a World War II veteran — received treatment for a brain tumor.

“It was an incredible experience,” Collins said of his medical training at the VA. “I want (UMass Chan Medical School) students to have the same thing.”

The second reason is providing access to quality health care that Worcester-area veterans deserve. Collins explained that for many years, local veterans travel roughly 40 miles to the Boston VA for care.

Now, those same veterans — and future generations of military personnel — will have local access to the clinic.

Exam rooms, care teams

The clinic's two floors house 88 exam rooms, said Kristin Mattocks, associate dean of veterans affairs at the medical school.

Of the 88, two are dedicated to female veterans. Mattocks made it a point to say that 10% of the VA’s patient population is female.

“Care teams” were another feature mentioned by Mattocks. Comprised of doctors and nurse practitioners, the teams are stationed outside exam rooms.

Doctors who examine patients have immediate access to the teams in order to develop the most effective course of treatment.

“(The care teams) will bring more collaboration and convenience,” said Dr. Radhika Koneru, medical director for primary care at VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Northampton.

Massive backlog

The clinic will also help reduce a backlog of 260,000 veterans benefit claims nationally as of the end of October, McDonough said.

That is because the facility will conduct a high volume of so-called “compensation and pension exams.” The exams will help determine if a veteran’s injuries sustained while on-duty prevent them from performing their present military tasks.

Dr. Michael F. Collins, Chancellor of the UMass Chan Medical School, speaks about the Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic during its opening Monday in Worcester.
Dr. Michael F. Collins, Chancellor of the UMass Chan Medical School, speaks about the Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic during its opening Monday in Worcester.

Claims staff at the VA will review the exams to determine the level of benefits, which in turn should help reduce the massive backlog of claims.

Another benefit, McDonough said, is the clinic’s connection with the VA Mission Act that received Congressional approval in 2018. The act’s mission is to complement care at VA hospitals with access to private health care institutions.

In the case of the medical school's new clinic, some patients will have access to doctors at nearby UMass Memorial Health for specialty care.

“At this clinic, we get the best (health) access and outcomes for veterans,” McDonough said.

Moving account

Collins may have offered the most moving account of the VA's mission to help veterans. And why the medical school's clinic will carry on that tradition.

During his remarks to those in attendance, Collins's voice cracked when he told the story of his late father-in-law, Brendan Feeney.

Like Collins's father, Feeney received medical care at the Boston VA.

"It remined me of the importance and community value of the (VA) institution. (Feeney) is leading the applause (of the medical school's clinic) from above," Collins said.

Contact Henry Schwan at henry.schwan@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic UMass Chan Medical School Worcester Jim McGovern