Montana Right Now: ‘One-stop shop’: Butte VA Clinic holds grand opening

by Kasey Faur

Dozens of people – some in military uniforms and white gloves, some in winter coats and winter gloves – braved the snowy, below-freezing day on April 29 to celebrate the grand opening of the Butte Veteran Affairs Clinic.

The clinic’s location on Three Bears Drive, close to the Southwest Montana Veterans Home, was chosen in May 2020 after providing services from a clinic in Anaconda since 1996, Montana VA Executive Director Judy Hayman said at the event.

“During those 25 years, our clinic has proudly grown the number of veterans we serve, and then run a clinic, which was originally designed to house one primary care team,” said Chief of Stakeholder Relations for VA Montana Christina Lundstrom.

The clinic is “veteran-centered”, Hayman said, and designed around the Patient Aligned Care Team model, where a team made up of several different health care workers, such as a nurse practitioner, therapist, a social worker and more. The clinic in Anaconda has one primary care team, but the Butte Clinic, which is four times as large, is able to accommodate two. There are plans to add a third, as well.

Hayman spoke at the beginning and end of the ceremony, after a flag folding, flag raising and opening prayer done by Annishinaabe artist and Helena-area healer Louise Ogemahgesig Fischer.

PACTs, Hayman explained, enables visits to be more private, require fewer transitions and less waiting time. PACTs also work together, meaning teams can connect patients to necessary providers “without the barrier of having to schedule another follow-up appointment.”

“This new design optimizes a patient’s time, and is really a one-stop shop,” Hayman said.

At the Anaconda clinic, she said, they served over 1,700 veterans. The Butte clinic has the capacity to serve 2,100 local veterans from Butte-Silver Bow and neighboring counties.

“Being centered on veterans also means offering innovations for veterans’ convenience such as robust patient Wi-Fi, improved sound-canceling rooms and a convenient location with easy access and lots of parking, as well as numerous advances in tele-health,” Hayman said.

The clinic will be providing outpatient mental health services, as well as tele-health, tele-audio and tele-retinal.

“This is a dream,” said Navy veteran Tom Muntzer of the clinic. “It’s as good or better than Fort Harrison,” he said.

Navy veteran Tom Goyette said he’s been on the patient side and the healthcare side, as he spent 20 years as a registered nurse. “I’m able to see it from both sides, and it is a great facility.”

When the move from Anaconda to Butte was announced, some Anaconda veterans were disappointed to see the clinic leave town.

Veterans who experience transportation challenges getting to the clinic can call 406-447-6270 to connect to a veterans Transportation Services ride or 406-691-0497 for a Disabled American Veterans ride, Democratic Sen. John Tester’s office said in a statement to The Montana Standard. For more information on travel claim assistance, veterans can call 406-447-7409.

Tester spoke at the ceremony, as did representatives for Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Matt Rosendale.

“It’s was a fact then and it’s a fact now,” Tester said. “This clinic would not be here if not for the veterans of southwestern Montana… You said, ‘Tester, dammit, go to work and get this thing funded.’ And we did.”

“The community-based outpatient clinic will be a place for the veterans of southwest Montana to receive the quality medical care they deserve,” said Representative for Sen. Steve Daines Mike Waters at the event from a statement prepared by Daines. “Montana needs more facilities like this one to better serve the needs of every veteran in every part of the Treasure State.”

“As we all know, nearly one in 10 Montana residents are veterans,” said Kelly Cotton, representative for Matt Rosendale in a statement prepared by Rosendale. “Therefore, we must invest in projects that continue to serve their needs.”

Tester is the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, which oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rosendale also serves on the committee. In the past few months, new VA clinics have opened in Bozeman and Missoula.

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher, who is a veteran and utilizes the clinic’s services, also spoke at the ceremony.

Local veteran Mike Lawson was chosen to cut the big, red ribbon at the ceremony with a pair of large, red scissors.

Lundstrom said that that morning, when the VA asked the clinic staff who should cut the ribbon, they mentioned this one person who showed up to the clinic almost daily to check in on things and communicate the status of the clinic with the community through his column in Butte Weekly. That person was Lawson.

“I was honored,” Lawson said of the privilege after the ceremony.