ELIZABETHTOWN - Dozens of veterans joined nine Essex County supervisors in an open forum May 7 to express their opposition to the proposed relocation of the Elizabethtown Veterans Administration clinic.
More than 200 people, mostly veterans and their family members, filled the gallery in the Essex County Board of Supervisors chambers and spoke passionately against removing VA clinic operations from Elizabethtown Community Hospital.
The satellite clinic, established at ECH in 1988 as one of the first in the nation, operates under the auspices of the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, but its relationship to its parent facility has grown sour as of late.
"We have come to an impasse such that the Elizabethtown Community Hospital hasn't been able to provide [a full-time] physician," explained Stratton VAMC director Mary-Ellen Piche, "and at a cost that will meet their costs."
Piche said a request for proposals was currently out, giving possible contractors the chance to offer to house the clinic, with preference given to facilities in Saranac Lake or Lake Placid. A clinic with full-time presence split between those communities and Elizabethtown would also be considered.
Proposals are due by May 15, with hopes of opening a new clinic by Aug. 1.
The Lake Placid and Saranac Lake region has a higher, denser population, Piche said, and so they expect as many as 1,000 new veterans to enroll if the clinic is established there.
"Our primary goal is to deliver the best care for as many veterans in the North Country as we possibly can," she said.
"If you move this clinic away from Elizabethtown, you will fail that goal," said Ticonderoga supervisor Robert Dedrick, noting that relocating the clinic would require many veterans to make at least an hour-long drive taking them through the Cascade Lakes region.
"From mid-fall all the way to mid-spring it is very treacherous driving, and you're going to ask our veterans to drive all the way to Saranac Lake?" Dedrick asked, echoing the sentiment of many veterans present.