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VA clinic part of long-range strategy

June 12, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

A Veterans Administration outpatient clinic proposed for Hagerstown is part of a long-term strategy to bring health services closer to veterans around the country, officials said Wednesday.

Richard Pell, director of the VA Medical Center east of Martinsburg, W.Va., said 36 proposals are awaiting congressional approval. He said the VA, which has a satellite clinic in Cumberland, Md., would like to add one outpost a year for the next several years.

In addition to increasing convenience for thousands of veterans in the Tri-State area, he said he hopes a local center will attract new patients.

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"We want to bring the services closer to the customer," he said.

Pell said the Hagerstown clinic would have one doctor on duty and a staff of four or five. It would perform checkups, routine follow-up exams and other basic health services. Patients also could drop off prescription forms, he said.

Veterans would still have to go to the Martinsburg center for hospital stays, operations or to see specialists, he said. But a clinic would provide an important first stop for patients, he said.

Phil Straw, an aide to U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said the subcommittees in the House and Senate that have jurisdiction over the VA must approve a list of proposals, but they do not require legislation by the full Congress.

He said the proposals could be sent to Capitol Hill as early as July 1.

After that, officials would negotiate a lease for space in Hagerstown. Straw said Bartlett would like to get the clinic running as soon as possible.

Pell said it likely will take at least until fall to get a clinic operational.

"I don't want to create an unrealistic expectation," he said.

Pell and others have selected the Western Maryland Hospital Center on Pennsylvania Avenue as their preferred site. The state-run long-term care facility has space available on its third floor.

Michael Golden, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the 12,000 square-foot third floor of the Western Maryland Hospital Center is practically empty, but said some patients are there while other parts of the building are being renovated. Filling the empty space makes sense, he said.

Pell said experience shows more veterans use facilities when they are geographically close. He said the Martinsburg center treats about 15,000 of 125,000 veterans in the area, which roughly stretches from Harrisonburg, Va., to Chambersburg, Pa., and from Cumberland to Frederick, Md.

Seabrook Hull, of the Maryland Veterans Commission, said there are 14,370 veterans in Washington County and 17,450 in Frederick County.

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