Same-day clinic at VA

The Walla Walla VA’s new same-day clinic operates in the space formerly home to gastroenterology services. It offers five bays for patients.

A new clinic at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center expands services for enrolled veterans with a walk-in healthcare option.

The same-day clinic opened quietly in the former gastroenterology space at the VA about three months ago as another way to serve veterans who have minor medical issues but no scheduled appointment with their regular providers, staff say.

Also known to veterans as a “sick call clinic,” the service is like a civilian urgent care or walk-in clinic for non-emergency visits. Colds, sore throats, skin irritation and ear infections are examples of non-emergency issues.

Since the Aug. 5 soft opening, the clinic has averaged about 10 patients per day, said Dr. Mark Liu, Walla Walla VA’s chief of staff. More are expected as word circulates and veterans understand how it works.

“We want to see what the demand is out there,” Liu said. “Could we extend the schedule to 12 hours? Possibly weekend care?”

The model’s welcome side effect is that it offers decompression in healthcare service at the VA campus, staff say.

Walk-in patients have always been welcomed there. But it hasn’t always been ideal for patients or providers.

Previously, an enrolled patient with no appointment or emergency could be squeezed in throughout the day or wait until the very end to be seen by a provider.

That has meant the potential for an hours-long wait for the patient. For the provider: an extended and crammed day with the possibility of no breaks. In other words, not the best option for either side, Liu said.

“The main focus of this clinic is truly about the patient — the veteran,” Liu said.

The same-day clinic can lead to more expedient care and streamline the service within the VA’s own system, where records are already connected and the Patient Aligned Care Teams are already in place for many veterans.

The “PACT” model has become the cornerstone of VA care.

Enrolled veterans in the VA’s catchment area are assigned a Patient Aligned Care Team, led by a provider who works collaboratively with nursing staff, clinical associate and administrative clerk for all of the patient’s needs.

The idea is to have coordinated care set up for each patient. The patients are able to develop relationships with members of their assigned team, all of whom are able to provide continuity of care.

With a scheduled appointment, a patient at the VA would connect with the PACT. Through the same-day clinic service, that group will also continue to have a role with the patient.

Here’s how it works: Patients check in at the primary care building on campus and fill out an “Unscheduled Patient Visit Form.” If the immediate need can’t be addressed at the check-in desk, one of numerous options will be considered.

Veterans who do not have an assigned PACT or are traveling through town or otherwise away from their home VA will be sent to the same-day clinic.

Veterans who do have a primary care team in one of the Walla Walla VA’s community-based outpatient clinics will be assessed for their medical need and sent to the same-day clinic.

Those who have a primary care team at the Walla Walla VA campus will first be assessed by their own team’s nurse care manager, VA staff say. If the assigned provider can’t see the patient in a timely manner the same day, the patient will be sent to the same-day clinic.

Issues that can be addressed immediately include appointment scheduling and prescription refills.

“The idea is to make sure, where possible, you can see your own doctor,” Liu said.

“Somebody will always take care of the walk-ins and provide care.”

Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.