Veteran critical of new VA clinic

Instead, Dr. Richard A. Matarese, a nephrologist and the clinic's director, met with him and made sure a prescription was up to date. When Mr. Ryan asked whether Dr. Matarese was a psychiatrist, the clinic's director told him he wasn't, and said the clinic was having difficulties filling staff positions, Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Ryan said the lack of a behavioral health professional at that appointment was not a major problem for him, but it worried him to think veterans needing immediate mental health care might not receive the treatment they needed.

Messages left at the clinic Monday for Dr. Matarese were not returned, but officials with the Veterans Administration in Syracuse, which oversees regional clinics including the one in Watertown, acknowledged that several staff positions remain to be filled.

Valor Healthcare Inc. opened the new facility in Watertown Feb. 1 after the VA in Syracuse awarded it a contract over Carthage Area Hospital's bid to continue providing services at its VA clinic in West Carthage. At the time, Syracuse VA officials assured veterans there would be no gap in services during the transition.

But on Monday, Syracuse VA spokesman Gordon Sclar said a few bumps in the road are to be expected with the opening of a new facility.

"During the transition, one of the big challenges is getting good quality staff and Valor is almost there," he said.

The clinic has no behavioral health providers on site currently, Mr. Sclar said. Last week Valor began providing "telemental" services, allowing patients to speak with a provider via video link, he said.

A full-time social worker in mental health, Leslie Alvarez, will begin work March 1, and Dr. Jeffrey S. Aronowitz, a psychiatrist with his own practice in Watertown, will begin part-time March 8, Mr. Sclar said. The clinic is "very close to filling a full-time psychologist position and an additional part-time physician," and is still looking to hire a podiatrist, he added.

Valor Healthcare was not in violation of the terms of its contract with the VA because it was providing behavioral health services via video link, Mr. Sclar said, "but we're going to be doing much better with these two individuals coming in."

A sample of veterans leaving the clinic after appointments last week for ailments ranging from a broken ankle to arthritis and high blood pressure said they were pleased with the treatment they'd received.

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