Pilot program in Caribou to provide Aroostook County veterans easier access to medical care

Posted July 08, 2011, at 6:23 p.m.

CARIBOU — A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program that was championed by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is going to provide Aroostook County veterans access to health care closer to home.

In 2008, Michaud helped pass legislation that created Project ARCH, or Access Received Closer to Home. The ranking member of the veterans affairs subcommittee on health announced on Thursday that Cary Medical Center in Caribou would be one of five sites in the country to test the pilot program. Under Project ARCH, veterans in northern Maine no longer will have to drive hundreds of miles to receive health care, but will be able seek out treatment at Cary.

Michaud included this pilot program in a bill he worked to pass into law in 2008 called the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act. At the time, it was announced that Project ARCH would be implemented at one site in northern Maine to be named later.

Caribou is one of five pilot sites that the VA is establishing across the country. The others are located in Farmville, Va.; Pratt, Kansas; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Billings, Mont.

Under the program, veterans are eligible to participate if they reside in a location where a pilot site is located and are enrolled for VA health care when the program starts. They must meet any of the following criteria:

• Live more than 60 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing primary care services.

• Live more than 120 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing acute hospital care.

• Live more than 240 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing tertiary care.

According to federal officials, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans and veterans who served on active duty in a theater of combat operations or in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after Nov. 11, 1998, do not need to be enrolled for VA health care when Project ARCH starts. However, they will need to meet the above-mentioned drive time criteria and enroll in order to participate in the program.

“I’m pleased this program will finally begin to help veterans in northern Maine get the care they need closer to home,” Michaud said in a written statement. “For too long our veterans have struggled with the unacceptably long drives to Togus or Boston. It’s my hope that this pilot will be expanded after the VA sees how important getting care locally is for these Maine veterans.”

This is not Michaud’s first effort to secure services for veterans in rural Maine. He was instrumental in bringing the Houlton Access Point Clinic, a community-based outpatient clinic of the Togus veterans hospital, to Houlton Regional Hospital several years ago.

The VA Maine Healthcare System in Togus will oversee Cary Medical Center’s activities through a monitoring program that tracks measures of clinical and administrative performance. State officials estimated that it would take Cary Medical Center up to 60 days to complete its preparations in order to provide health care services to eligible veterans.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins also praised the announcement.

“We have an obligation to provide quality health care for Maine’s veterans who have given so much to this country,” Collins said in a written statement. “This unique program will help reduce the need for veterans in and around Caribou to travel long distances to receive quality medical care — allowing more veterans to access health care when and where they need it.”

Cary Medical Center is 65-bed acute care hospital, and both the facility and its staff have won state and national awards for quality in both customer service and clinical performance. The hospital employs 540 people, 60 active medical staff providers, 100 courtesy and consulting physicians, and 75 volunteers.

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