CARIBOU, Maine — For more than 23 years, veterans in Aroostook County have been spared the more than 10-hour-long trip to the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta and back because of the efforts of Cary Medical Center in Caribou.
While veterans and their families have long appreciated the hospital for establishing the nation’s first rural veterans’ community-based outpatient clinic in 1987, the facility is now getting recognition on a national scale.
Officials with The American Hospital Association announced Monday that the organization will present its Award of Honor to the Caribou hospital next week for its service to American veterans. The award, which will be presented to Cary officials during a ceremony on April 11 in Washington, D.C., is given to organizations and individuals in recognition of exemplary contributions to the health and well-being of people through leadership on major health policies or social initiatives.
The AHA is a not-for-profit association of health care provider organizations and individuals that are committed to the health improvement of their communities. The AHA is the national advocate for its members, which includes more than 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks, other providers of care and 38,000 individual members.
“We were very pleased to hear that we had won the award,” Bill Flagg, director of community relations and development at the hospital, said Tuesday. “Our congressional delegation has been instrumental in this process. They’ve provided us with letters of support, and so have a number of other organizations.”
The Caribou hospital established the nation’s first rural veterans’ community-based outpatient clinic, pioneering a health care delivery model that has set the standard for similar clinics throughout the country. When CMC proposed the clinic in the late 1970s, it sparked national discussions within the Veterans Administration about health care needs for rural veterans. CMC worked with the local veterans leadership group, Aroostook County Veterans, for more than a decade to secure approval from the VA to establish the clinic, which began with limited follow up care and opened formall.y as an outpatient clinic in 1987.
“The clinic was a collaboration between a lot of people,” said Flagg. “We began working with veterans back in 1979. At the time, our World War II veterans were getting older, and they had to drive 500 miles to make the trip to Togus. Back then, they had to go there for most everything, including X-rays and blood work. Something needed to change.”
Rich Umbdenstock, the AHA president and CEO, praised the hospital for establishing an outpatient veterans clinic that transformed health care for veterans in Maine and across the country.
“By bringing health care to veterans in rural areas where they live, Cary Medical Center filled a significant gap in their health needs and provided a model for other VA clinics,” said Umbdenstock.
Flagg said the clinic now serves up to 120 veterans a day, with more than 9,000 care visits annually, and provides primary care, mental health services, home-based care, telehealth, lab services, and health and wellness programs.
The hospital also worked closely with Maine Veterans’ Homes to establish a 40-bed long-term care facility and a 30-bed residential care facility on the Cary campus. The Maine Veterans’ Home provides skilled nursing, rehabilitation and long-term care with the goal of returning patients to their home and community, as well as a Maine Veterans’ Residential Care facility which provides care to patients with early dementia. As further expansion of veterans’ care is being considered, Cary continues to work with local veterans, the VA and Maine’s congressional delegation.
Previous Award of Honor winners include organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, The Institute for Safe Medication Practices and Habitat for Humanity.