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El Paso veterans health care system moves mental health services to airy, bright clinic

William Beaumont Army Medical Center (TomStar81/WikiCommons)
January 31, 2020

Military veterans’ mental health services are to expand with the opening of the El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System’s new clinic in a $15 million, large, bright building in South Central El Paso.

The 33,000 square-foot building at 5130 Gateway East Blvd., on the Medical Center of the Americas campus, opened Jan. 23. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 28.

“What this building represents is the El Paso VA’s commitment for supporting mental health services,” psychologist Connie Ponce, chief of mental health for the El Paso VA Health Care System, said as she sat in the new clinic’s main lobby filled with sunlight from its front walls of windows.

“This is a reflection of recognizing veterans need space to see providers and be able to have more (mental health) providers and a variety of services,” she said.

Most of the El Paso VA’s mental health services and staff will move from its crowded and old main Medical Center located next to the old William Beaumont Army Medical Center in North Central El Paso. The 337,900 square-foot, 25-year-old building is shared by a variety of health-care clinics.

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William Beaumont is scheduled to be in its, new, mammoth, $1.4 billion medical complex in far East El Paso by this fall. And tentative plans call for eventually building a new VA medical clinic next to the complex.

The South Central VA Wellness Center, the name of the new mental health clinic, “is the first domino in our plan to expand and provide a wider variety of services and more timely care to our veterans,” Michel Amaral, director of the El Paso VA Health Care System, said in a statement.

“This facility consolidates VA mental health services into one location, making it more convenient for patients and is near our education partners at Texas Tech,” he said.

Services and staff will be phased into the new clinic over the next several weeks, Ponce said. The new clinic will eventually have a staff of about 95 people and see about 40,000 veterans a year when in full operation, Ponce said.

The VA’s substance abuse program and homeless mental health services will remain at the old clinic next to the old Beaumont hospital, Ponce said. But many mental health care services will expand as the staff grows in the new clinic, she said

Psychologist Mark Menzies, who was working Jan. 24 in his sunlit office in the new clinic building, said having more space will provide opportunities for expanding mental health services and allow the VA to offer services at times most in demand from patients.

“From the patients’ standpoint, this is wider, brighter space,” where more mental health providers will be available in one location, said Menzies, general mental health program manager for the El Paso VA.

The Medical Center of the Americas Foundation won the bid to build the mental health clinic for the VA, which is leasing the building from the foundation. The foundation’s Cardwell Collaborative biomedical technology incubator building is in front of the new, VA clinic.

“We hope that a free-standing clinic in a beautiful facility located in the heart of a burgeoning medical center campus will help reduce the stigma often felt by those seeking mental health treatment . . .,” Emma Schwartz, president of the MCA Foundation, said in a statement.

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© 2020 the El Paso Times