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Rural Ark-La-Tex veterans may avoid trips to Shreveport VA for routine care

Kate Archer Kent

Hundreds of veterans who live in the rural reaches of the Ark-La-Tex may no longer have to drive to Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport for routine appointments. Their doctor will be beamed in to a location in their town -- or perhaps their driveway -- thanks to a $2 million rural health grant.

A high-tech mobile clinic will traverse 29 counties and parishes delivering telemedicine. Volunteers of America North Louisiana is set to deploy the van next week in partnership with the VA’s Office of Rural Health, according to program director Jeremy Fusco who is overseeing the two-year grant.

“The client will be able to connect to their provider and have an HD session with their provider on the other end. We’re starting now with a focus on mental health, and then we’ll branch into primary care,” Fusco said.

The cargo van resembles a TV station’s satellite truck. It’s got a dish on the roof. Press a button and it will deliver high-speed internet instantly from anywhere, according to Bill Sullivan, business development director for Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat. The company’s technology is on hundreds of commercial airplanes.

“We’re able to deliver really high-speed video at economics that are sustainable in a mobile clinic environment like this. Previous generations of satellite technology would just be really, really expensive to do,” Sullivan said, who was at the VOA’s Highland Center in Shreveport Thursday to inspect the new van and its satellite system.

The mobile clinic is equipped with a seating area allowing a nurse to take vitals. In the rear, a soundproof pocket door opens up to a large flat screen monitor across the back double doors where the patient can sit at a desk and visit the doctor. Fusco says it’s like being face-to-face.

“You can see the expressions in their face. You can see the changes in their brow. You can see facial recognition. It has the capability to give a true life-like image. It’s not distorted or pixelated like if you had a regular webcam,” Fusco said.

Credit Kate Archer Kent

The Rural Vets Health Outreach van will be on display at the Home Depot parking lot, 110 East Bert Kouns Industrial Loop, Shreveport, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The VA estimates 43,000 veterans live in rural areas served by Shreveport’s VA Medical Center.