VA Reviews Site Proposals for New Clinic

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A decision on where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will situate its new Youngstown Community Based Outpatient Clinic is expected later this month a Veterans Administration official says.

The department opened its clinic, 2031 Belmont Ave., Youngstown, in 1992. It solicited lease proposals for up to a 20-year term. 

Review of the proposals is underway, says Jose Salcedo, Veterans Affairs’ deputy director of community outpatient services. An announcement is expected during the last week of June or the first week of July.

“It’s a big deal for the government to procure a new lease. It does take time,” Salcedo says. 

In a letter to U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, Marie Smith, acting director of contracting for Veterans Affairs, had said a final selection was anticipated in April. 

“The location of the future facility must not impact patient care, which will preclude construction phasing or facility shutdown to accommodate the new facility,” she said in the letter. 

The office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the VA was still working through the selection process for a location for the outpatient clinic, and the senator was working closely with the agency to ensure the needs of veterans and their families are being met. 

“Senator Brown’s first priority is making sure that the Mahoning Valley veterans receive the highest quality of care,” the spokesman says.  

There was “a lot of interest” based on the submissions, Salcedo says. 

Although he declined to say how many proposals were submitted or are being considered, he acknowledges both existing structures and new construction projects are in the mix. 

During the 2018 federal fiscal year, the outpatient clinic on Belmont Avenue treated about 10,000 unique patients, reports Carl Schneider, facility director. This fiscal year, usage is up 1.5% over last year, he adds. 

The veterans population in Mahoning County stood at 16,319 during the 2018 fiscal year, according to documents provided by the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission and the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. 

VA spending for medical care in Mahoning County totaled $51.76 million during the same period.  

According to the request for proposals, the administration is seeking to lease approximately 30,000 net usable square feet of space, not to  exceed 35,875 rentable square feet, with 250 parking spaces. The site must be within or front boundaries defined by Interstate 80 (north), U.S. Route 224 (south), state Route 11 (west) and state Route 616 (east). 

The 25,000-square-foot multispecialty care clinic on Belmont Avenue offers a range of services that includes primary care, podiatry, X-rays and physical therapy, as well as a pharmacy and blood-drawing lab, Schneider says.   

“We’re not expecting to add any services to the new clinic, but we are always expanding the care that is provided through telemedicine and deploying specialty-care providers,” Salcedo says. 

Several services are provided through mobile clinics. These include audiology, Schneider says. A newly acquired mobile unit provides mammography, ultrasound and bone-density scanning, he adds. That unit will have a specific space to park at the new clinic, he says. 

The additional space can’t come too soon, says Susan Krawchyk, executive director of the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission. 

“We’re running out of space,” she says. “We needed to do this five years ago when vets were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The numbers are going to swell of people who didn’t use benefits before but now don’t have health care for whatever reason, so more people are enrolling  

Parking is a hassle, she says. Vehicles are larger than when the clinic opened in 1992 and the handicapped spaces are inadequate to meet demand. Those parking issues discourage veterans from seeking treatment there. 

Neither she nor Salcedo were sure how many parking spaces there are at the Belmont clinic, but Salcedo is sure it is below the 250 required for the new site. 

“Veterans are happy with the services and the time it takes to get in,” Krawchyk says. “It’s just the parking.” 

According to attorney Carl Nunziato, a Vietnam veteran, the majority of local veterans prefer that the clinic remain at its current site, which draws from Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio and Mercer County in Pennsylvania, because of its convenient freeway access. 

The owner of the building, Dr. Bari Lateef, has submitted a proposal to build a new clinic on property he has purchased at the rear of the parcel where the existing clinic operates, he says. 

After building the new structure, he would demolish the current building. “The plans are good,” Lateef says.   

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