Hospitals for veterans, clinics to close, moved into consolidation plan
Overall, the proposals aim to combine and expand services to fewer locations, upgrade aging facilities and provide more care in some underserved locations like Cape Cod, which has a high percentage of veterans. .
The VA “has developed a recommendation to ensure that veterans of today and generations to come have access to the high-quality care they have earned,” according to the agency’s plan, released this week.
“The recommendation also ensures that VA continues to perform its additional missions: education and training, research and emergency preparedness,” according to the report, which was submitted to an independent review panel.
The plan comes at a time when the number of veterans in Massachusetts is rapidly declining. According to the VA, the state’s veteran population has dropped 42% since 2000. This trend is expected to continue, with the number of Massachusetts veterans rising from 287,000 to 120,000 over the next two decades.
“We need to look at where our veterans live, what this report does, and how they access health care,” said Coleman Nee, a Marine Corps veteran who served as secretary of state for veterans affairs under former Governor Deval Patrick.
“If we do this wrong, it could be really bad,” Nee said. “But if we do this right and if we involve the governor’s office, the legislature and the various agencies, this could be an important development to serve veterinarians for the next 50 years.”
Some veterans and advocates have expressed concern that the VA did not consult with enough veterans before releasing its report.
Andrea Gayle-Bennett, adjutant for the Lynn-Swampscott chapter of the Disabled American Veterans and former chapter commander, said the agency appears to have planned to close facilities without notifying veterans.
“There was no transparency,” said Gayle-Bennett, a retired Massachusetts National Guard brigadier general and 38-year-old veteran who served in Iraq and was the first black woman in the National Guard. state to be promoted to colonel.
“It’s the federal government,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a public process. Someone made the decision, and they’re not communicating with us.
Nee said he expects the VA and the review board will hold a series of public meetings as the recommendations are considered. In addition, state and local authorities are legally permitted to participate in the future use of surplus VA assets.
Under the VA plan, the Bedford Medical Center, built in 1928, would be replaced with a facility “nearby” the current 181-acre campus.
At the existing Bedford complex, according to the VA report, “the physical layout of buildings creates inefficiencies that impact clinical, administrative, and facility support services,” which are “spread across multiple buildings, requiring veterans, providers and staff to travel through antiquated tunnels to access and deliver care.
The plan would invest in new mental health, long-term care and inpatient residential rehabilitation programs at a new, undetermined location, according to the VA.
At Jamaica Plain Medical Center, built in 1952, outpatient surgical, residential rehabilitation, and high-complexity ambulatory care services would be disrupted on a 16-acre campus that the VA says has “permanent maintenance issues caused by a aging infrastructure spread over several buildings. ”
Outpatient surgery and high-complexity specialty work would be moved to West Roxbury, while simpler outpatient services would continue to be offered in Jamaica Plain to veterans who live nearby, the VA said. Residential rehabilitation treatment would be transferred to Bedford and Brockton.
In recommending the closure of Northampton Medical Centre, built in 1923, the agency said the facility ‘is no longer in the optimal location to serve veterans’ and ‘does not meet current design standards’ .
The highest concentration of veterans in this area, the VA said, “resides along a largely urban corridor that runs from Springfield, through Hartford, and into the greater New Haven area.”
The AV recommended moving outpatient services from Northampton to the community clinic in Springfield and residential rehabilitation treatment to Newington, Connecticut.
The two US senators from Massachusetts said they would monitor how the approval process unfolds.
“I am concerned about the potential closure of any VA facility in Massachusetts, and I will be monitoring this issue closely to ensure the concerns of veterans, local communities, and VA employees are heard and addressed,” he said. said Senator Edward Markey.
Senator Elizabeth Warren added that she is “deeply concerned that the VA has not engaged and communicated thoroughly with Massachusetts veterans about decisions impacting their health and their families.”
“I work with my congressional and administration colleagues to ensure that the VA process is transparent and fair, and that any proposed closures do not make it difficult for veterans to access care in their own communities,” Warren said.
The closure of VA clinics in Lynn, Gloucester and Quincy is concerning, said Nee, the former secretary of state for veterans affairs. Although the overall veteran population is shrinking in Massachusetts, the number of African American, Latino and female veterans is growing, he said.
“For a large portion of this population, they continue to have problems accessing health care,” Nee said. “It’s a little worrying that we’re going to places that would require more drive-outs from those communities.”
For its part, the VA said the clinic in Quincy poses traffic problems for veterans and that South Weymouth would be more accessible. Locating a new clinic in Salem and closing Lynn and Gloucester would provide primary care, outpatient mental health care and specialty care in a more convenient location, the agency said.
Mike Sweeney, director of veterans services for Lynn and Swampscott, said the proposal would add hurdles for some of the most vulnerable veterans and was put together without input from the people it would affect.
“They don’t want to have these in-person meetings where veterans and their families can come in and explain what they’re going through and what they need,” said Sweeney, a Massachusetts National Guard sergeant first class who served in Afghanistan in 2014.
Sweeney said the VA’s analysis was based on a simple assessment of where veterans live and did not consider other important factors.
“A veteran from the city of Lynn, for example, who might be disabled, living on social security and not having access to his own personal transportation cannot be compared to a veteran who lives in a more rich who has access to all these things,” he said. “So you’re not comparing apples to apples.”
U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, a veteran Democrat and Marine from Salem, said his “goal is to make sure the voices of our veterans are heard in this process.”
“They’ve earned the care they’re getting from the VA,” he said, “and the VA needs to understand how these veterans will be affected by the proposed changes.”
Liz Goodwin of Globe staff contributed to this report.