The VA is seeking a 10-year lease on outpatient clinic space.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may be moving its outpatient medical clinic to a new location in or near the city.
The clinic since 2000 has been in rented quarters on the second floor of Riverside Square, the former St. Joseph Riverside Hospital building on Tod Avenue.
The clinic has three physicians and a mental health unit. The VA would like to add podiatry and optometry services and likely those of a part-time dietitian in Warren, said Nancye Panella, assistant director of primary care for the VA medical center in Cleveland. "We are in a growth mode, " she said.
About 3,500 veterans use the Warren clinic annually. That number has been increasing by 8 percent to 12 percent a year, she said.
"I'm excited about it, and, hopefully, if we can write the proper amount of money into the budgets in D.C., we'll be able to fund those things," said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th.
"That's something that I think is important because we have one of the highest concentrations of veterans in this area in the whole state."
Here's a problem
The Warren clinic draws blood for lab work, which is done in Cleveland but lacks lab or X-ray facilities. Veterans needing X-rays must go to the VA outpatient clinic on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown, which has operated since 1990.
Panella said it's not economically feasible to add lab and X-ray facilities to the Warren clinic.
The Cleveland VA medical center seeks a 10-year lease on a 10,000-square-foot facility suitable for an efficient, single-floor clinical layout with about 125 parking spaces.
The VA set a Sept. 12 deadline for lease proposals for space it seeks to occupy Aug. 1, 2006. The VA is looking for a facility within boundaries that include Warren and parts of some surrounding communities.
"As long as it's beneficial to the veterans, I think it's a good move," said Mike Psznick, director of the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission.
Psznick said the Tod Avenue clinic is well-used. Some 32,000 veterans live in Trumbull County, he said.
"A lot of veterans right now can walk to the clinic," be observed. "If they move it too far out, then that could be a problem," he said, adding that he like to see the new clinic in a central location.
Although the VA is advertising publicly for proposals to meet its space needs, Panella said she's not ruling out having the clinic remain within Riverside Square.
"We don't necessarily want to move it elsewhere. We just need more space, more usable space, better access. We prefer a ground-floor location that would be more accessible," Panella said.
City officials will contact key developers in the city, and the city will be able to offer suitable space to the VA, said Mayor Michael O'Brien. "It's sad to hear that they may leave the St. Joseph site. However, we'll be able to propose equal, if not better sites," he said.
Among those sites is the downtown Gibson Building that housed the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, the mayor said. That building became vacant in February, when the Warren BWC staff joined the Youngstown staff. Another potential clinic site is downtown's vacant Park-Porter building, the mayor said.
The VA prefers to lease clinic space because leasing offers more flexibility to meet changing needs than does ownership of buildings, said David Jewel, chief of external affairs for the VA in Cleveland.
Before the outpatient clinics in Youngstown and Warren were established, veterans had to travel to the Cleveland area to use VA facilities.
The VA is also advertising for 10-year lease proposals with similar specifications in the East Liverpool and Calcutta area. There, it operates an East Liverpool outpatient clinic with "very limited parking," Jewel said.
The VA seeks to expand services there as well, adding podiatry, optometry and dietitian services, Panella said. Some 2,500 veterans are served annually in East Liverpool, where utilization has been growing at the same rate as the Warren clinic.
Whatever the outcome of the lease proposal process, the VA is committed to retain outpatient clinics in Warren and East Liverpool, Jewel and Panella said.