Canton Repository

May 8, 2004

Brecksville hospital closing won’t affect local veterans

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — The controversial closing of a veterans hospital in Brecksville will have little effect on patients in Stark and Tuscarawas counties, since they are rarely referred to that hospital, federal officials said Friday.

On the same day, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi unveiled a 20-year plan to modernize the veterans health-care system, which includes closing the Brecksville hospital and two others in Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

The road map also calls for the construction of new hospitals in Orlando and Las Vegas, 156 new community clinics, four new spinal-cord injury centers and other facilities around the nation.

One provision in the plan would have an impact in Canton. Anticipating growth in Canton and Columbus, the plan says the agency will “use existing authorities and policies to contract for care” with local hospitals in the two cities.

VA officials in Washington and Ohio could not provide any details on what hospitals would get contracts and when the services would begin.

When Brecksville closes in the next four to five years, Cleveland area veterans will be left with just one veterans hospital, the Wade Park Veterans Affairs Medical Center on the east side of Cleveland.

“New construction and renovation will improve the environment of care by replacing aging patient care buildings at Brecksville with new and renovated facilities at Wade Park,” the plan says.

Area lawmakers have complained that closing Brecksville will inconvenience 48,000 veterans who use the hospital and will have to travel farther for care.

In a letter to Principi, Democrat Reps. Sherrod Brown of Lorain, Ted Strickland of Lucasville and Tim Ryan of Warren said Wade Park “is already facing huge and growing patient backlogs.”

Yet the closing will have little effect on veterans in Stark and Tuscarawas counties who use veteran outpatient clinics in Canton and New Philadelphia, VA spokesman Chuck Bonacci said.

He said those veterans typically would not be referred to Brecksville for specialist treatment because in most cases that treatment already is available at the Canton clinic.

“There’s not many specialty outpatient clinics at Brecksville that are different from (what’s available at) the Canton VA clinic,” he said.

When patients from Canton need to go to a hospital, they typically are referred to Wade Park, he said. Similarly, veterans at the New Philadelphia Outpatient Clinic would be referred to the Canton clinic or Wade Park for specialized procedures.

An exception is veterans who need help with post-traumatic stress disorder or gambling. They are referred to Brecksville, which specializes in those disorders.

As part of the Brecksville closure, Bonacci said another outpatient clinic would open on the southwest side of Cleveland to serve veterans who are now receiving similar services at Brecksville.