The new VA clinic in Ramsey was designed for veterans from the northwestern suburbs. But it is attracting clients from California to North Carolina, from Brainerd to Warroad.
And, perhaps more surprisingly, the 10-month-old community-based outreach clinic has drawn 59 patients from Minneapolis -- veterans who choose a 30-mile drive to the Ramsey site over the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, the region's largest VA hospital.
The new clinic, which once had a three-month waiting list but now sees patients immediately, was built as a limited-service alternative to the Minneapolis hospital for veterans in northwestern Hennepin and surrounding counties. The state-of-the-art operation had seen 3,215 veterans as of last week. Of those, 1,898 (62 percent) were from Anoka County and 687 (21 percent) from Hennepin County.
Doctors there also treated veterans from Charlottesville, Va.; Parker, Colo.; Tioga, N.D., and Apache Junction, Ariz.
"This is the dream come into fruition," said Mitzi O'Brien, business manager for the Community Based Outpatient Clinics under the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. "We wanted the clinic to appeal to veterans who wanted to avoid driving through traffic to Minneapolis or veterans in rural areas. We've exceeded expectations."
Dick Lang, an ex-Marine and retired Anoka County commissioner, now volunteers to drive veterans to medical appointments, usually to the VA medical center in St. Cloud.
"If it's not something major, I tell veterans to check out the clinic in Ramsey," Lang said. "It's fantastic."
VA officials projected a patient base of 6,000 veterans for the clinic within three years of its November 2011 opening, but the number of patients is ahead of projections, O'Brien said.
The only negative reactions had been to the initial waiting list and by patients who were hesitant to see a doctor other than one they had seen in Minneapolis or St. Cloud. The VA hired more doctors to "clean up" the waiting list, O'Brien said. Some were temporary.
The clinic has served veterans from 11 states. Many are coming to Ramsey to the audiology clinic, O'Brien said. The dental clinic is "booming" and the eye clinic is growing, she said.