Auburn Community Hospital has reached out to federal representatives in its quest to continue operating Auburn's outpatient clinic for veterans after recently losing a bid for the clinic, asking that local veterans' feelings be considered.
The Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center recently appointed health clinic operator STG International to be a provider for an Auburn clinic over the Auburn hospital, which has held the contract for the clinic for more than 20 years.
Matt Chadderdon, vice president of marketing for the hospital, said Friday the hospital has reached out to the offices of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Rep. John Katko about pausing the awarding of the contract until the process and decision are reviewed.
STG International, which is based in Virginia, was picked as part of the established Department of Veteran Affairs federal solicitation and award selection process, in which VA clinic contracts are competitively bid every five years. ACH still currently provides primary and behavioral health care and specialty referral services to around 1,400 veterans in Cayuga County and the surrounding area through the clinic.
An outpatient clinic at the former Rite Aid pharmacy at 47 E. Genesee St. will be a part of STG International's plans. The building is slated to see extensive renovations before a targeted May opening. At about 10,000 square feet of space, the new clinic is set to be about double the size of the hospital's facility, with the idea being that the larger area will allow for additional patient care and services.
Scott Berlucchi, the hospital's president and CEO, said in a letter to the editor to The Citizen that the hospital wants to continue serving veterans through the clinic.
"We urge the (Veterans) Administration to rethink this decision, and take the time to ask our local veterans what they want," Berlucchi said.
Berlucchi also noted the hospital's proposal for the clinic bid included "an investment of a new building that would offer the space and services the VA requested."
Chadderdon said the clinic has received praise from veterans it treats about the care they receive and that several veterans have signed a petition saying they don't support the transition from the hospital to STG International. The clinic has been inundated with calls from concerned veterans, Chadderdon said, saying veterans that use the current clinic weren't consulted in the decision.
"I think what we're urging our representatives to do is listen to the veterans and listen to what they want and what they need," Chadderdon said.
Schumer's office did not indicate whether or not the senator would intervene.
“Sen. Schumer is always working to ensure that New York’s veterans receive the best possible care in an accessible way," Schumer spokesperson Lincoln Zweig said in an email. "We’ll continue to closely monitor the issue to ensure that’s the case for veterans in the Auburn area."
Erin O'Connor, deputy chief of staff and director of communications for Katko's office, said the congressman has been in contact with the hospital and "is working as a liaison between the Hospital and the Department of Veteran's Affairs regarding the decision to establish a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Auburn."
"At the Hospital's request, Rep. Katko has asked the VA to provide a written explanation as to how the decision to select an outside provider was made, as well as the criteria used in making this decision," O'Connor said.
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Robert McLean, public affairs officer for the Syracuse VA, said in an email that "a formal contracting process had been completed for the Cayuga County CBOC and STG's submission was selected as the most responsive to the needs of our Veterans." He also said services for veterans currently seen at the hospital's clinic "will continue uninterrupted" during the transition. Every veteran using the clinic has been sent letters about the operator and location change by the Syracuse VA, McLean said.
Chadderdon said local veterans have a familiarity with staff at the hospital's clinic, saying there is a "level of comfort" that is a crucial factor in health care.
"We care about the health care they receive and want to continue doing that," he said.