The Veterans Affairs health care clinic in Clarksville has closed its doors to new patients, citing space constraints. Some veterans say this is putting a strain on other clinics in nearby rural counties.
George Gordon goes to a primary care doctor at the Stewart County VA Clinic, a small brick building in Dover, Tenn., about 40 miles west of Clarksville. Gordon says he hasn't had good experiences there.
“The service in the Dover clinic — I’ve just been treated badly," he says. He had to wait too long for an appointment, his doctor was unfriendly, and the clinic never gave him results from a recent blood test.
More than a year ago, Gordon requested to switch to a doctor in Clarksville. He's still waiting, he says.
“I’ve called the Clarksville clinic. They just said they’re full. They can’t take me.”
That facility stopped accepting new patients in March. Officials say they've seen an influx in new veterans to the area, and the 10,000 square-foot clinic — built in 2008 — is already over capacity. The VA is planning to open a new clinic in Clarksville that’s more than triple the current size, but not until 2017.
In the meantime, more veterans are being referred to a clinic just over the border in Hopkinsville, Ky., as well as the small one in Dover.
Dover's facility seems to have a harder time adjusting to the new patients. In recent months, it’s seen a rise in average wait times: Patients are now waiting, on average, 12 days longer to see a primary doctor than their preferred appointment date, up from 5 days in July.
At a recent town hall meeting in Dover, veteran Terry Johnson told Robert Lim, a chief doctor with the VA, that he had to wait several months for an annual checkup.
"I think the world of the VA. It's taken very good care of me. I've had some very good surgeries," Johnson said. "I just think the VA clinic is totally overwhelmed at Dover."
"I probably would agree with you on that," said Lim.