New telehealth service at Main Street Store in Albion will help veterans with medical appointments

Photos by Ginny Kropf: (Left) From left, Renee Hungerford, Katrina Chaffee, and Cassie Eagle with Community Action of Orleans and Genesee, met Tuesday with Paul Galantowicz, Facility Telehealth coordinator for the VA of Western New York, and Paul Pettit (right) from the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments to announce a new telehealth service for veterans in Orleans County. (Right) Paul Galantowicz with the VA of Western New York shows Community Action personnel how to access the computer at Community Action’s Main Street Store for telehealth visits for Orleans County veterans.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 29 March 2023 at 9:41 am

ALBION – Veterans in Orleans County have a new option for accessing their healthcare, thanks to a new service which is now available at Community Action of Orleans and Genesee’s Main Street Store at 131 South Main St.

On Tuesday, Renee Hungerford, director of Community Action; Katrina Chaffee, director of CAOG’s Community Services and Reporting; Cassie Eagle, manager of the Main Street Store; Paul Galantowicz, Facility Telehealth coordinator for the VA of Western New York; and Paul Pettit, director of the Orleans/Genesee County Health Department, announced a partnership between their agencies to bring Orleans County veterans access to VA Hospital services via telehealth.

Using virtual technology and a safe and secure VA Video Connect app, veterans can reserve time to connect to their VA providers using a soundproof booth located in the training room of the Main Street Store.

Plans for providing such a service began at the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments prior to the Covid pandemic. The health officials participated in a program to develop telehealth and an axis of care, Pettit said. In 2017, the health department received a grant from the Kresge Foundation and Pettit began searching for a place to set up a telehealth booth.

“We had nothing like that here for veterans,” Pettit said.

Previously they had to travel to VA health centers in Batavia, Canandaigua or Buffalo for medical visits.

Pettit first reached out to the American Legion in Holley, but that fell through. Then he contacted the County Veterans’ Office, but that did not work out. Hoag Library was also unable to accommodate the service.

So, knowing about the Axis of Care program Hungerford had developed for Community Action, Pettit contacted her and learned there was, indeed, space available at the Main Street Store.

Telehealth visits are conducted from a soundproof booth with a computer which connects to the veterans’ medical provider. The booth, which Pettit had purchased in 2019, is four feet by four feet and provides a private space where veterans can engage in their sessions. It is ventilated and has calming lights.

Galantowicz said veterans should talk to their medical providers to determine if their situation is suitable for telehealth visits.

“We will make providers aware we are here,” he said.

Pettit said the Covid pandemic changed everything in regard to telehealth.

“It is more widely accepted and used now,” he said.

Telehealth for veterans is made possible because of a program called Accessing Telehealth Through Local Access Stations (ATLAS), started by the VA to address healthcare to veterans in rural areas.

Phillips Medical out of Ohio supplied the equipment. To date there are only 15 telehealth sites for veterans in the country, and only two in New York state.

“I was fortunate to get one for Gowanda last year,” Galantowicz said.

The computer uses a program called VA Video Connect. Eagle will be available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to help veterans who wish to access the VA on the computer.  Veterans will be able to do blood pressure checks while the medical person at the VA watches or receive lab results.

“Telehealth is great for follow-ups,” Hungerford said.

“This program has been four years in the making,” Pettit said.

It will save veterans time and travel, while they remain close to home.

“It allows the VA to go outside its system to connect with a veteran,” Galantowicz said.

The VA will teach veterans how to use their Smart Phone to sign up for telehealth visits. Or they can contact Eagle at 589-1430 to help them, or Katie Leach, who coordinates the Orleans County Digital Literacy program at Cornell Cooperative Extension, at 798-4265. Veterans may also pick up a brochure at the Main Street Store explaining the program.