Record numbers have come to the once-controversial center.
The new veterans medical clinic in Ramsey didn't open until Nov. 15. But just that last month and a half of 2011 was enough to push visits to the Anoka County veterans services office to an all-time high.
"We had a record number of veterans come into this office for the month of November, and for 2011 overall, and the reason is obvious -- it's the clinic," Allison Lister, the county's veterans services director, said last week.
"We always hear complaints," said Lister. "But in this case, I've yet to hear a negative comment concerning the clinic. Our veterans couldn't be more pleased."
Last year, the veterans service office in Anoka received 6,410 visitors -- more than 500 above the previous record year of 2010. In November alone, the veterans service center had 653 visitors -- or 111 more than the previous month.
Veterans are so enamored with the state-of-the-art community based outpatient clinic (CBOC) that they're still willing to wait to experience it, Lister said. The waiting list -- once as long as six months -- now is closer to two months.
Still, the demand to use the facility -- which serves the northwest suburbs and offers an alternative to the veterans medical centers in Minneapolis and St. Cloud -- has exceeded expectations.
Funding for three additional doctors has been approved, said Mitzi O'Brien, CBOC business manager with the Department of Veterans Affairs Health System in Minneapolis. And developer Jim Deal, a Ramsey businessman who recently built The Falls Cafe just a few feet from the clinic, said the clinic's success will prompt further development.
"That's something you can count on," Deal said.
What once was considered a controversial venture that prompted a bidding war between the cities of Ramsey and Elk River is now seen as the model for future VA clinics throughout the region, O'Brien said.
The clinic in Maplewood is being relocated -- moving from White Bear Avenue, where it has been since 1999 -- to the city's northeast corner. Other veterans clinics are being planned for the southwestern suburbs and near the Minnesota-Iowa border, possibly in Albert Lea.
"It's exciting," O'Brien said. "The Ramsey CBOC has opened a world of possibilities."
The Ramsey clinic serves veterans living in Anoka, Sherburne, Wright, Isanti, Mille Lacs and northwestern Hennepin counties. Anoka County alone is estimated to have more than 31,000 veterans -- more than the other areas using the Ramsey clinic combined.
"The number of veterans we had in November and December coming into our office and asking about the clinic was absolutely crazy," Lister said.
"That's calmed down. But the enthusiasm for this clinic has not."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419