ALBERT LEA, Minn. – It has been a long process, but the day is finally here. Five years after talks started on a new VA outpatient clinic coming to south-central Minnesota, leaders dedicated the building and showed it off.
Hundreds of people packed the Skyline Mall in Albert Lea to honor the veterans and the new VA outpatient clinic inside. The large crowd caught some folks off guard.
“They showed up and they weren’t from right here either, they’re from all over,” said Veteran Bob Guenther.
“This is our 12th clinic, very rarely, only one other time have we had any kind of a response similar to this and it was in a much, much larger community,” said Minneapolis VA Director Patrick Kelly.
But not everyone was surprised.
“When I saw the memo that said expecting 200 people I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me, there’s going to be 500,” said Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen.
VA leaders said one thing that drew them to this location was the community support, something Rasmussen said he takes great pride in.
“We put ourselves out there and tried to promote ourselves, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to the veterans and what worked best for them, and I think logistically we were just in a location that worked best for them,” Rasmussen said.
The clinic will serve veterans in southern Minnesota and north Iowa, who typically would need to go as far as Minneapolis for care.
“One of our primary goals in the VA is to take health care where the veterans live, so I hope what it means is these veterans, rather than having to drive up to Minneapolis to get their primary care, they can get it right here in the community,” Kelly said.
He said that primary care will eventually expand to include more specialized treatment.
“We’re starting out with primary care but we’re also adding mental health services, podiatry, physical therapy,” Kelly said.
That is great news for veterans like Guenther whose trip to the clinic just got a whole lot shorter.
“It’s real good, by golly, I’ve been going to Rochester all the time, so this is convenient,” Guenther said.
The clinic has been open for a few weeks now. Prior to this location, the closest clinics were in Rochester, Mankato and St. James, so leaders are waiting to see how many veterans this location will bring in.