LEWISTON — A new Veterans Administration clinic will soon begin treating veterans.
This weekend, workers at the VA’s temporary clinic in Auburn will move their equipment from borrowed Army Reserve offices on Minot Avenue to the new facility on Challenger Drive in Lewiston. On Monday, they are scheduled to begin seeing a small pool of patients, said James Doherty, spokesman for the Togus VA Medical Center.
That pool will grow.
The VA is preparing a larger opening in March, one that will kick off treatment for an estimated 6,000 patients per year.
“I’m all excited,” said Jerry DeWitt, a Lewiston veteran who helped lead the effort to bring the clinic to Lewiston. “But it’s overdue.”
DeWitt and others worked for about seven years to get the clinic.
The Department of Veterans Affairs originally intended the facility to be built in the Brunswick area, but veterans lobbied the VA and Maine’s congressional delegation to bring it here, instead. They argued that more veterans would be helped by placing the clinic in Lewiston. U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, picked up the argument and lobbied the VA.
In February 2010, the VA committed $20 million for a long-term lease on the specially built clinic.
Construction began last fall on the 29,000-square-foot facility.
The clinic is at 15 Challenger Drive, just off Alfred Plourde Parkway and a short distance from Exit 80 of the Maine Turnpike. The property is owned by Maine Veterans Homes, which plans to build an adult day care center beside the clinic.
On Thursday, VA workers readied the building for their new visitors. They carried chairs through the automatic front doors as fire experts tested the alarms.
The slow opening seemed reasonable to VA leaders, who are working to staff and equip the building for its larger mission. The smaller, temporary clinic staff was ready to move to its permanent location.
“We had the building and it’s ready,” Doherty said. “We thought, ‘Why not?'”
When it is fully operational, it will offer a variety of services to veterans with chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and mental illnesses. Testing and treatment for audiology and optometry also will be available.
A pair of pharmacists will be there to consult patients on their medications, though there will be no dispensary.
For veteran Burt Dutil of Lewiston, who worked with DeWitt to lobby the VA, the new center will be a huge convenience.
Dutil, who turns 80 on Friday, said he had been treated at the Minot Avenue clinic and looked forward to moving to the new center. Mostly, Dutil said he was happy to continue treatment in Lewiston-Auburn, instead of making the hourlong drive to Togus.
“I haven’t been to Togus in two years,” he said. “I like it that way.”