ELIZABETHTOWN - The locations where veterans in the Adirondacks receive their medical care may soon be changing.
Officials from the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center held two town hall-style meetings May 26 and 27 in Elizabethtown and Saranac Lake, and announced the latest development in their plans to replace the veterans' outpatient clinic at Elizabethtown Community Hospital with sites in both communities.
According to Mary-Ellen Pich , director of Stratton VAMC, a site in Saranac Lake has been chosen for a build-to-suit facility that will act as one of two satellite clinics. An addition of 2,600 square feet, the amount of floor space sought for VA clinics, will be constructed alongside the Branch and Callanan Building on Depot Street.
A contract for the site had yet to be finalized as of May 28, but Pich said it is expected to be signed within the next week. If so, the clinic could be ready to open as early as this fall.
The plan, Pich explained, is to hire one team of clinic staff, including a VA-certified physician, nurses and clerical staff, and have them split their time between two sites: one in Saranac Lake and another near Elizabethtown, both of which will be open two or three days each week.
Most of the staff has already been hired, she noted, but the search for sites to house the clinic, which has been ongoing for more than a year, has been a more daunting challenge.
"I don't think we anticipated the difficulty in finding a location," Pich said, "but we're continuing to pursue that."
Frank Karl is a former commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars post 3357 in Saranac Lake. Last year, he presented a petition signed by 4,500 veterans who said they would like to see a VA clinic established in the Tri-Lakes area.
Pich said a need has been identified in the Tri-Lakes area for a clinic, but to open a separate clinic requires an act of Congress. Splitting one clinical team between two satellite clinics allows the two sites to act as one clinic while hopefully meeting the needs of veterans in both communities.
Meanwhile, the search continues for a new site in the Elizabethtown area. Pich said they have narrowed the search to two sites, one in Westport and another in Port Henry, with negotiations with the property owners ongoing.
Many in attendance at the Elizabethtown meeting May 26 questioned the status of the former State Police barracks in Westport, one of the sites reportedly under consideration.
Adrienne Frank, the MVAC Caroline Manager at Stratton, confirmed the facility as one still under consideration. She said there were "some challenges" in getting it to meet federal standards and the needs of the clinic, but negotiations with the owner regarding renovations remain open.
"We will remain at Elizabethtown Community Hospital until we are ready to make a transition to the new site," said Pich , noting how ECH officials are allowing the clinic to stay there until it is ready to move.