A long-awaited outpatient clinic for veterans opened its doors to patients Wednesday morning from a new location in Soldotna.
The grand opening of the Alaska Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System’s Soldotna Community Based Outpatient Clinic was heralded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the clinic lobby.
Well-attended by clinic staff, veteran service organizations, local elected officials and VA officials, the ceremony was followed by tours of the new clinic, which will provide service to some of the estimated 8,000 veterans on the Kenai Peninsula.
The VA previously operated a veterans clinic out of Kenai, but pivoted to operating out of Central Peninsula Hospital after the Kenai facility suffered structural damage from roof failure. Three years later, it’s found a home in Soldotna across the street from Heritage Place Skilled Nursing facility. The proximity to CPH is a “collateral benefit,” Alaska VA Healthcare System Director Tom Steinbrunner said.
By offering services at a central location, the clinic will respond directly to the ways service was limited after the Kenai facility closed and provide a sort of one-stop-shop for veterans, Steinbrunner said. It will also be able to offer treatment that some veterans previously had to travel to Anchorage for, such as audiology and podiatry.
The new building is roughly double the size of the old Kenai clinic and marks a 20-year investment in the central peninsula’s veteran population, Steinbrunner said. As a VA facility, it will focus on providing primary care and mental health services while also rotating in specialty providers from other VA clinics in Alaska.
Dr. Teresa Boyd, the network director for Veterans Integrated Service Network 20 of the VA Northwest Health Network, told attendees Wednesday that she’d like to see Soldotna’s clinic become the standard for community-based outpatient clinics.
“Can you imagine if our veterans throughout the enterprise, throughout the nation were able to walk in and procure health care in a beautiful environment like this — a healing environment — just what that world might look like?” Boyd said.
Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs Director Verdie Bowen said the clinic represents a promise made to veterans by the country they fought for.
“This all starts really with that promise that the federal government made to us as we raised our right hands,” Bowen said. “All of us standing in positions throughout the country are really just promise keepers. We’re here to keep the promise that was made to veterans to provide the quality care that they’ve earned.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was followed by tours of the facility, which Steinbrunner said is intentionally laid out to guide logical patient flow. Immediately beyond the check-in window are exam rooms along the first hallway. The hallway then bends and comes back to the reception area, where patients can schedule follow-up appointments prior to leaving the clinic.
Located throughout the facility are other spaces that cater to veteran needs, such as team and conference rooms, telehealth rooms, a procedure room and an audio booth for audiology services that can be used to treat conditions like tinnitus and hearing loss. Beds are angled away from exam room doors to offer privacy for sensitive exams and there’s space for HUD-VASH, a collaboration between the VA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that works to help homeless veterans find and sustain permanent housing.
Decorating the hallways throughout the facility is artwork intended to recognize veterans’ service.
Steinbrunner said the Soldotna facility is part of a VA initiative to expand each of Alaska’s community-based outpatient clinics. The first clinic to be expanded was in Homer and was completed in September 2020. The building is federally funded and was put together for about $2 million. Steinbrunner said the annual operating cost for both the Homer and Soldotna clinics is around $3.8 million.
Bowen said there are close to 8,000 veterans on the Kenai Peninsula and estimated that the facility will serve between 3,500 and 4,000 people annually. The Soldotna clinic was originally meant to open several months ago, but supply chain challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the date back.
Steinbrunner said veterans interested in taking advantage of the services offered at the clinic should first make sure they are enrolled with VA benefits and then get assigned a primary care manager. Primary care can be established either in Soldotna or in Homer.
He was one of many who emphasized the role community partnerships played in helping the clinic become a reality and in making sure veterans were supported even after the Kenai building closed.
“Everybody came together to ensure that veterans were not left out in the cold when our building failed,” Steinbrunner said. “I don’t know that that would happen universally across the country, but I am so happy that we have that partnership here in Alaska. The Kenai/Soldotna area is a testimony of what good looks like.”
Veterans can apply for health care benefits through the VA at va.gov/health-care/apply/application/introduction.