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Health & Prevention Report: Telehealth is making healthcare more accessible for veterans in the Four Corners

Computer at the Veterans Center in Cortez, Colorado
Ellis Berry
Computer system used for Telehealth at the Veterans Center in Cortez, Colorado.

In this week’s Health and Prevention report, KSJD’s Sofia Stuart-Rasi stops by the Project Outreach Veterans Center in Cortez, Colorado – a non-profit that serves thousands of veterans.

It’s a Friday morning at the Project Outreach Veterans Center in Cortez. And the center’s common room is filled with the smell of hot coffee, chatter and laughter.

Project Outreach Veterans Center started nearly ten years ago and welcomes all veterans in the Four Corners region. Darla Sanders is the Director of the Veterans Center and say’s the center is run completely by volunteers.

“It's amazing. I didn't think it would last this long, but it only gets stronger,” Sanders said.

And thanks to generous donations, the center is now able to offer a space for veterans to take telehealth appointments – a project that was a year in the making. Ron Terry is the Coordinator of Project Outreach Veterans Center.

“COVID is the one that actually drove it … to get telemedicine going so that you have availability to your doctor's regardless of where you're living,” Terry said.

 Darla Sanders and Ron Terry at the Veterans Center
Ellis Berry
Darla Sanders and Ron Terry at the Veterans Center.

When the pandemic pushed many healthcare services to go remote, it also highlighted some of the problems that people have in accessing those services.

While Telehealth can be convenient for many people, others may not have the connectivity, or even privacy, at home for it to work.

Terry says it was forcing some people to fall through the cracks and delay getting medical treatment … people like himself and his fellow Veterans.

“I hadn't seen a doctor in almost a year and a half because of COVID,” Terry said.

And Terry wasn’t alone … fellow Veterans were also experiencing the same situation.

“He wasn't able to see a doctor for over two years, and he's got ongoing heart issues. We want to not have that happen again,” Terry said.

Terry set up the Telehealth system at the Veterans center at the end of 2021.

It’s placed in a private room to support HIPAA approved video compliant communication products … HIPAA is a federal law meant to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient's consent or knowledge.

“Plus we have a headset and a microphone so they don't, you know, they don't have to holler and scream, and then nobody else can hear the doctor,” Terry said.

Also, the computer has reliable internet access … a resource Terry says many Veterans in the area don’t have at home.

“It's great for them to be able to have that ability to come in and have telemedicine,” Terry said.

Many gathered at the Veterans Center
Ellis Berry
Many gathered in the Common Room at the Veterans Center.

Within a couple weeks of launching this resource, Veterans started using the Telehealth service for their medical needs … like one veteran who has cancer and needs to get regular check ups.

Terry says because of Telehealth, the center was able to help the veteran connect remotely with a cancer clinic in Phoenix, Arizona instead of having to drive more than 400 miles, each way, for appointments.

“We want to be able to service our veterans, no matter what the world situation is … whether it be you know, taking them to their doctor's if we're able to get them back home, or come and get them or bring him here to do it, tell them if we can get that set up for them,” Terry said.

Darla Sanders, Director of the Veterans Center, says any veteran from any branch of the armed services is welcome to come in, grab some coffee, chat, and use the services they offer. The center serves thousands of veterans in the Four Corners region and works alongside the DAV – Disabled American Veterans organization.

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