ELIZABETHTOWN - The Veterans Affairs clinic at the Elizabethtown Community Hospital is moving.
But contrary to prior reports, the clinic is not leaving Elizabethtown. Peter Potter is public affairs officer for the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, which oversees operations at VA clinics throughout New York State. He told WNBZ his office has no intention of leaving Elizabethtown.
"What we are looking to do, and what we've always looked to do, is put a community-based outpatient clinic in the Elizabethtown area - it could be Elizabethtown it could be Westport, as long as it's in that immediate area - and then open up a second clinic in the Saranac Lake region," Potter said.
Stratton VA wants to open a clinic in the Saranac Lake area because according to staff research, there's about 4,500 veterans living in the Tri-Lakes.
"Veterans who are traveling any where between an hour and 10 and an hour and 20 minutes to get to a CBOC," Potter said. "We like to have a 30 to 45 minute drive time. An hour is longer than we like to see. We want to spread out the CBOCs so we can effectively treat the veterans in the area."
The VA clinic at Elizabethtown Community Hospital has been around for decades, and in May veterans packed the Old Essex County Courthouse to lobby officials in Albany who said the clinic might shut down.
Officials said that the clinic was not staffed according to VA regulations and did not provide adequate space. Elizabethtown Community Hospital administrators learned recently that Stratton plans to close the clinic sometime in the coming months.
Potter says Stratton wants a full-time physician manning its clinics. In Elizabethtown, hospital officials could only provide a physicians assistant.
"Which we allowed, but the problem is for over a year, they didn't have a physicians assistant," he said. "So basically, it was being staffed by our part-time physician, plus a physician who would travel up from Albany occasionally. So the contract wasn't being met. We like to provide the same standard of care everywhere. So having a physician available 24/7 or at least a physicians assistant is pretty important to us."
Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew is veterans services director for Essex County. He says veterans will be relieved to learn the clinic isn't leaving the area, but that some of the staffing regulations still need to be addressed.
Merrihew notes that finding a full-time physician to live in the Elizabethtown area is a challenge considering the difficulties rural hospitals face in physician recruitment.
"The philosophy is great, but the practicality, whether that's doable, whether they can commit and find a physician within their ranks that's willing to come up and bounce around - that remains to be seen," he said. "That's the other concern that the veterans have. What type of service are they going to get?"
No decisions have been made about when the Elizabethtown CommunityHospital clinic will close, and Potter says his office is still researching possible locations for the two new clinics.