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Department of Veterans Affairs recommends closing current Alexandria VA center, relocating services

Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 1:55 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2022 at 10:20 PM CDT
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CENTRAL LOUISIANA, La. (KALB) - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has published its recommendations on how to realign and modernize VA health care nationwide, which it says includes closing the current Alexandria Veterans Affairs Medical Center located in Pineville and relocating services.

There are three main points listed in the recommendation report to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission when it comes to the Alexandria VA.

  1. Relocating the inpatient medicine, inpatient mental health, and outpatient surgical services from the Alexandria VA to community providers.
  2. Relocating the Community Living Center (CLC), primary care, outpatient mental health, outpatient specialty care, and urgent care services currently provided at the Alexandria VA to a new facility in the vicinity of Alexandria.
  3. Closing the existing Alexandria VA.

According to the market recommendations by Veterans Affairs, current care at the Alexandria VA is distributed across the 147.4-acre campus of roughly 40 buildings, which have “significant architectural and utility-related issues” that makes the center “unsuitable for continued clinical services.” It adds that “the long narrow corridors and low floor-to-floor heights are not conducive to renovation to meet current clinic standards,” sharing that the aging infrastructure was sized to support a much larger Veteran population back in 1950 after WWII.

With the closure of the existing Alexandria VA, in the report, Veterans Affairs suggests relocating some VA services to a new, inevitably smaller purpose-built outpatient clinic with 48 CLC beds in the “vicinity of Alexandria.” The report said this will “allow for services to be modernized to meet current VA design standards and sized to meet current and forecasted demand.”

The report recommends moving the Community Living Center, as well as primary care, outpatient mental health, outpatient specialty care, and urgent care services to that new clinic in the Alexandria-area. Other services, including inpatient medicine, inpatient mental health, and outpatient surgical services, would be removed completely from the VA - instead going to community providers. The report said offering these services are “not sustainable” due to the Alexandria VA’s ”declining demand, enrollee population, and aging infrastructure.”

Specific figures in the report show the inpatient medicine average daily census (ADC) has decreased from 14.1 in fiscal year 2015 to 3.4 in fiscal year 2019 and is projected to decrease to 2.8 by fiscal year 2029. When it comes to inpatient mental health, ADC has decreased from 33.1 in fiscal year 2015 to 24.1 in fiscal year 2019 and is projected to remain stable at 24.5 by fiscal 2029. Outpatient surgery cases decreased from 1,993 in fiscal year 2015 to 1,753 in fiscal year 2019.

The report by Veterans Affairs shared that the Alexandria submarket enrollee population was 39,600 in fiscal year 2019 and is projected to decrease by less than 300 to 39,312 by fiscal year 2029, but there are only 12,204 enrollees within an hour of the Alexandria VA. Veterans Affairs said in the report that the population is generally split between Alexandria, Lafayette, and Lake Charles and that “relocating services to community providers in Alexandria, Lafayette, and Lake Charles will provide Veterans care closer to where they live, improving access.”

The recommendations about the Alexandria VA end with this statement in the report: “With the relocation of outpatient and CLC services to a new site and the relocation of inpatient medicine, inpatient mental health, and outpatient surgery to community providers, closing the Alexandria VAMC campus will allow VA to better align capacity and resources to meet current and future demand.”

WHAT IS THIS REPORT? WHY IS IT BEING PRODUCED NOW?

This report by the VA is a part of what’s being called the the most significant redesign of the VA health care system since the World War II era. The bipartisan VA MISSION Act was passed and signed into law by President Trump in 2018, and required an assessment of the current and future health care needs of U.S. veterans. Since then, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it has conducted years of research and analysis, including interviews and collaboration with VA facility staff and leadership, as well as soliciting feedback from Veterans.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The recommendation report, which includes closing the Alexandria VA, is now in the hands of the AIR Commission. The members of the commission dealing with asset and infrastructure review within the VA are appointed by President Biden, but are still in the nomination phase waiting to be reviewed by Congress. Last week, President Biden announced his intent to nominate eight people to the commission.

In the AIR Commission review, the Commission will hold public hearings, visit VA facilities, meet with employees and VA partners, as well as Veterans – to help assess the recommendations. The commission has until January 2023 to hear feedback on the proposals. Once that is complete, the recommendations would go to President Biden no later than Jan. 31, 2023. He then has 45 days to issue his approval or disapproval. If approved, the recommendations would head to Congress who could then accept or reject. If accepted again by lawmakers, the Department of Veterans Affairs must begin implementing them within three years.

RESPONSE FROM LAWMAKERS, LOCAL OFFICIALS

“Alexandria and Central Louisiana have a long history of support for the military, and our central location makes the Alexandria VA Medical Center an ideal spot for veterans in surrounding communities to come to seek treatment. While the Commission has issued only a preliminary recommendation and not a final decision, we encourage them to review all of the facts and to put the needs of our veterans and their families first.”

Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall

KALB is currently getting more reaction, which we will add to this article.

The full report is below - Alexandria’s VA is considered a part of the Southern Market, which starts on page 32.

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