ELIZABETHTOWN - A decision to re-evaluate the operation of a Veteran's Administration clinic at Elizabethtown Community Hospital is now taking a different turn.
The department of Veteran's Affairs had submitted a request for proposals in April seeking to relocate the clinic in the Saranac Lake or Lake Placid region. The deadline for proposals was May 15 with the goal of awarding a contract by Aug. 1.
Many local veterans spoke out against the consideration to relocate the Elizabethtown VA clinic, which was one of the first ever established in the United States.
Peter Potter, spokesman for the Stratton VA Medical Center, said that administrators there are still considering some of the proposals they've received for operating a contracted clinic in the region, but are now leaning toward a "staff model" approach.
In a staff model, Potter explained, Stratton VA would directly hire medical professionals to man the clinic, which would be located in a rented space. It differs from the currently-utilized contract model where Stratton reimburses a clinic or hospital that provides their own VA-accredited staff.
Out of the 11 clinics currently operated by Stratton, Potter said four currently utilize a staff model as opposed to a contract model.
Potter said using the staff model would allow the VA to have more control over ensuring the clinic was staffed and run according to VA standards, with standardized appointment times for each patient.
Staffing has been a concern in Elizabethtown, where ECH has been unable to hire a full-time physician or physician's assistant to staff the VA clinic there. A traveling doctor from Stratton is currently filling the position as a temporary measure.
By hiring staff directly, however, Stratton would be able to draw from a nationwide pool of VA-accredited physicians, bypassing the difficulty of local hospitals to attract a doctor.
"We're thinking that it might be a more cost-effective way to ensure a high quality of care for our veterans," Potter said, noting that administrators at Stratton will continue to make comparisons with contract proposals. "Our focus is making sure we're providing the best care possible."
A likely scenario if the staff model is chosen, Potter said, would be for the VA staff to split time between a clinic in the Elizabethtown area and another in the Saranac Lake area.
"The staff model also gives us that opportunity to provide services in both places," said Potter.
Specialist services for veterans would have to come from another facility, such as Stratton itself, but could be contracted to local medical centers like ECH.
Potter said that if a staff model is utilized, the VA would attempt to retain as much of the current staff as possible, including Dr. Herbert Savel, a part-time physician who has been highly praised by patients at the clinic.
"Hopefully Dr. Savel would stay on," said Potter.
While a clinic split between Elizabethtown and Saranac Lake could be possible using a contract model, Potter said the staff model would offer a better guarantee of coverage. For now, however, the clinic remains in place at ECH.
"We will continue to provide the care in Elizabethtown as we move forward with this process," Potter said. "When we get the perfect solution, that will dictate how we move forward."