Lawmakers urge VA secretary to partner with Northside for VA facility


Letter suggests options for Northside facility

By JUSTIN DENNIS

jdennis@vindy.com

NILES

Ohio lawmakers are urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to partner with Northside Regional Medical Center’s operator to house VA services at the facility.

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, and Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, submitted a letter Wednesday to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, suggesting the department partner with Northside operator Steward Health Care of Boston, which recently announced the Youngstown hospital would close by Sept. 20.

The letter suggests the facility could become a space for VA services such as transitional housing for veterans struggling with homelessness or substance abuse or 3-D fabrication of prosthetic limbs through America Makes, a national 3-D printing institute.

“There’s, I think, a potential for a research and development facility there that we could tie to America Makes ... where we may be able to do some 3-D printing with those prosthetics; or a veteran’s village where we can handle homelessness and maybe some housing and other kinds of senior care,” Ryan said during a brief news conference Wednesday in Niles.

“[We’re] just exploring all options here. We can’t let that facility die,” he said.

Steward has been in contact with officials about Northside’s future but has yet to offer up any plans for the facility. Neither Steward nor the VA had officially responded to the letter Wednesday afternoon, Ryan said.

Any partnered facility likely would not become a VA-run hospital, as the department is currently divesting itself of hospitals to focus on community-based clinics, Ryan said.

“We’re already bringing back tens of millions of dollars in federal money for America Makes. We could tie it into other federal money through the VA and create a synergy there that could lead to some job creation and stabilization there on the North Side and in southern Liberty Township,” Ryan said. “The more organizations who [are] involved – both public and private sector – the more sustainable it is over the long-term and the more it’s going to lead to job creation [and] development and provide the kind of services we need.”

Jan Brown of Youngstown, first national vice commander of AMVETS, said that need is for more availability of mental-health services.

“We need more mental- health professionals. ... And it’s not just our clinic; it’s across the nation,” she said. “There’s a shortage of mental-health professionals. They can’t fill them fast enough in the VA system.

“There’s a huge need for it. Our veteran population is aging quickly. Our Vietnam-era veterans are in their 70s. The youngest are in their mid-60s.”

Leo Connelly, former commander of Disabled American Veterans, said he wants public officials and private partners to first sit down and do the math to develop a feasible program in the Northside facility, which was built in the late 1920s.

“There’s a number of things that could be there. I think it would be excellent for a nursing home for veterans. Split that [space] up and help the homeless,” he said.

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