August 6, 2008

Veterans Clinic the Issue: VA Targets East Side Site. Our View: Good News, but Not Without Issues.

The national newspaper USA Today ran an erroneous news brief about Evansville in its Friday edition. The item said, "Evansville - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to build an 87,000 square foot outpatient clinic on the former campus of Welborn Baptist Hospital. It would replace a smaller downtown clinic and would open by 2011, officials said."

Although there are any number of people and groups - this newspaper included - who wish that were true, it is not true.

In fact, the news was that the VA had obtained a $1.8 million option to buy 11 acres at the northwest corner of Burkhardt Road and Columbia Street on the city's East Side. It plans to build an outpatient clinic there to replace the one that stands at 500 Walnut St.

It would be open in 2011.

The choice of an East Side site goes against the grain of many community leaders and representatives in Washington who tried to persuade the VA to open the new clinic Downtown.

Not only would a Downtown site have been centrally located, but it also had a practical component. Downtown Evansville is home to the former Welborn Baptist Hospital, a fine medical facility that was purchased by St. Mary's Medical Center in 1999, and was eventually phased out as a hospital. Officials in Evansville long believed the Walker Building on the Welborn campus would have been an ideal location for a new veterans outpatient facility.

Even though that idea had the support of such heavyweights as Sens. Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar, and Rep. Brad Ellsworth, it was not to be.

The VA, which apparently looked at the Welborn facility, told Evansville officials that Welborn did not meet the necessary criteria for a new state-of-the-art clinic. The only thing we can say is that until Welborn was gobbled up by intense hospital competition in Evansville, it was functioning as a top-rate hospital.

The news of an East Side location was greeted last week by criticism from Vanderburgh County's Veterans Service Officer Mark Acker, who said some veterans might have difficulty traveling to the East Side.

"For the older veterans and those who rely on bus transportation, it's going to be a major mess," Acker said in a report by Courier & Press staff writer Dan Shaw.

We wouldn't go that far.

The new East Side site will be accessible by METS bus service, and by the time the new clinic is up and running, information should be made available to veterans, telling them exactly how to get to it, by bus or car. Also, from our experience, most METS drivers are extremely helpful in getting riders to their destinations.

At the same time, veterans traveling to the new clinic may find access no more difficult - and perhaps easier - than the small Downtown site. And that site is close to Interstate 164, which brings a lot of motorists from outside the city into the East Side commercial district where this clinic will be located.

Our main concern, as it always has been, is with the medical services offered at the clinic. In recent years, veterans requiring services at the Downtown facility have complained about reduced services and a staff that's too small. They say this sometimes requires them to have to travel miles away from Evansville to other VA facilities to secure needed services. For the most part, their complaints are not about the doctors and nurses, but rather about staffing size and services offered.

The discussion of these issues should not be taken to mean that people here are unhappy about area veterans getting a new, larger clinic.

For certain, a state-of-the-art VA clinic is needed, but so too are state-of-the-art medical services for veterans who sacrificed so much for their country.

(c) 2008 Evansville Courier & Press. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.