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Essex County VA clinic in jeopardy

PORT HENRY - The Veterans Administration clinic at Elizabethtown Community Hospital is in jeopardy.

New VA rules could mean an end to the Essex County clinic, which has been serving veterans' medical needs the past 22 years, according to Rod Boula, ECH chief operating officer.

Boula told the Moriah town board April 14 the VA has decided all veterans clinics must be staffed by full-time physicians. The Elizabethtown clinic is staffed by a part-time doctor and physician assistants, he said.

"It's unfortunate this is happening," Boula said. "There have been a lot of changes in Washington. I've been in contact with Rep. (John) McHugh to express my concern."

The full-time physician requirement is a deal-breaker for ECH, Boula said.

"We don't have the physician resources to have a full-time physician in that clinic," he said. "The VA wants a full-time physician - and we can't do it."

From his point of view, Boula said the current arrangement of a part-time doctor and physician assistants is working well.

Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava expressed concern that the possible closing of the Elizabethtown clinic would pose a burden on the many veterans in his community.

'We have a lot of veterans who rely on that clinic," Scozzafava said. "It's going to be impossible for small, rural providers to meet the VA regulations."

The VA has requested proposals from health care providers interested in operating clinics in 2010. Boula said ECH will respond, knowing it can't meet VA requirements, but hoping for the best.

"We're going to answer the RFP (request for proposals) the very same way we have the past 22 years," Boula said.

There are 1,383 VA clinics in the country. The closest to Essex County, besides Elizabethtown Community Hospital, are located in Plattsburgh and Glens Falls.

Recent changes in VA clinic rules have made it more difficult for hospitals to provide the service, Boula said. VA clinics in Malone and Plattsburgh are now operated by private health care providers rather than hospitals, he pointed out.

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