FARMINGTON — Area Veterans now have a new and roomy outpatient clinic, outfitted with the newest technology, to meet their needs.

State, county and city officials and representatives from the New Mexico VA Health Care System, as well as local Veterans themselves, gathered Friday for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Farmington VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, located behind the Animas Valley Mall at 3605 English Road.

The almost 7,000-square-foot facility will serve more than 2,000 veterans from around the region who previously had to visit a much smaller and outdated facility, which was located two miles away.

"This will be personalized, productive, prevention- and patient-driven health care," said VA Health Care System VISN 18 Network Director Susan Bowers. "Vets can now receive quality care as close to home as possible."

In addition to state-of-the-art medical equipment such as a teleretinal machine that evaluates eye health, the clinic is outfitted with several telemedicine stations that will allow patients and doctors to consult simultaneously with specialists located in other cities and even in other states.

"This is a clinic designed for a new way of taking care of veterans. The facility matches this new model of care," said George Marnell, director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System.

Area veterans previously had to travel to Albuquerque to consult with specialists, but will now be able to utilize the telemedicine technology to obtain that information while remaining in Farmington. The technology will even allow a nurse in Farmington to hold medical measurement instruments on a patient while a doctor in Albuquerque reads the data.

Julie Dreike, Business Manager for ambulatory care for the state's VA Health Care System, said this type of technology is the wave of the future, and in some cases remote consultations are actually more beneficial for patients than personal ones.

"All studies show that (telemedicine) is as effective as seeing a doctor in person. It's even more effective, in some cases, because people with, for example, back pain don't have to sit in a car for hours to go see a doctor in Albuquerque."

The clinic's director, registered nurse Sharon Wimer-Norton, said the facility is staffed by two full-time primary physicians, several registered nurses and physician assistants, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and two full-time social workers, including a homeless outreach specialist who contacts homeless veterans.

"She also goes to the Detention Center and to other counties and areas on the reservation. Many Veterans don't even know there's a health care facility they can use," Wimer-Norton said. "Even if a veteran doesn't have (identification) or isn't registered with the VA Health Care System, they can come in and give us their name, date of birth and social security number and we can hook them up with services. We'll help them fill out paperwork, whatever they need to get their services."

The center is also equipped with computer stations patients can use to access a database called "My Healthy Vet." Veterans can register for services, make appointments, communicate with doctors, and manage their health care via this system.

Beverly Charley, local Veterans Employment Representative, said the clinic will usher in a new era for the county's veterans.

"It's a big change, and I think it will bring more veterans in (for treatment), especially the newer veterans."

Mayor Tommy Roberts told those assembled that the clinic will provide many benefits to those who have given to their country, and said the clinic represents the commitment and dedication of the Veterans Administration to address veterans' growing health care needs.

"On behalf of the City of Farmington, I want to thank those who served their country and preserved the freedoms that we take for granted," he said.

The VA clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Any veteran enrolled in the VA health care system is eligible for care. For more information about the clinic, call 505-326-4383.

Leigh Irvin may be reached at lirvin@daily-times.com; 505-564-4610. Follow her on Twitter @irvindailytimes