Auburn's outpatient clinic for veterans will relocate in the spring from Auburn Community Hospital to a currently vacant building on East Genesee Street — a move that hospital officials said raises "questions and concerns."
According to a news release, health clinic operator STG International has been approved by the Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center to become the new provider for an Auburn-based clinic to assist Cayuga County veterans.
The company said it will establish an outpatient clinic at the former Rite Aid pharmacy at 47 E. Genesee St. The building will undergo extensive renovations before a targeted May opening.
STG International was chosen as part of the established Department of Veteran Affairs federal solicitation and award selection process, the news release said. Contracts for VA clinics are competitively bid every five years as a part of the process.
The Auburn clinic is currently operated by and located at Auburn Community Hospital, providing primary and behavioral health care and specialty referral services to around 1,400 veterans in Cayuga County and the surrounding area.
The new building will be designed to provide additional space for room expansion, patient privacy and enhanced services, the press release said. The new spot would allow the VA to expand care through additional space for mental service, health and dietetic services. The Auburn hospital will continue to operate the current clinic during the transition, and services for veteran patients currently seen at the clinic "will continue uninterrupted," during that time, the news release said. The new clinic is set to be roughly twice the size of the current one, with about 10,000 square feet of space.
The VA said the move will provide "significant additional space needed for room expansion, patient privacy and enhanced services" and afford the ability to provide Patient Aligned Care Teams and expand care for mental health, telehealth and dietetic services.
Matt Chadderdon, vice president of marketing for Auburn Community Hospital, said the hospital wants to know more about the process behind STGi being selected to operate the clinic for the next five years instead of the hospital.
"Auburn Community Hospital has a number of questions and concerns about the decision, and is working with Congressman (John) Katko to get a better understanding of the process and the decision," Chadderdon said.
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Robert McLean, public affairs officer for the Syracuse VA, said the strength of STGi's proposal, which included the use of the Rite Aid building and the additional space, influenced the decision to pick the company instead of proposals from the Auburn hospital and another entity.
The losing bidders were notified by email Sunday, McLean said.
"We picked the proposal that included the best possible service for our veterans," McLean said.
The Syracuse VA center sent letters about the operator and location change to every veteran using the Auburn clinic on Friday and Monday, McLean said.
STGi runs VA clinics in locations in California, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The company's services beyond managing clinics includes management consulting, supporting pre-kindergarten through 12-grade education programs and providing health care for detention and correctional facilities, including Immigration Customs Enforcement locations, according to STGi's website.
“STGi was selected to operate the (Community Based Outpatient Clinic) because their proposal was the most responsive to the needs of our Veterans and allows for the expansion of services and programming. We look forward to working with them,” Dr. Judy Hayman, director of the Syracuse VA center, said in a news release.
The staff at the Auburn hospital's clinic consists of around a dozen employees and two VA employees on the mental health staff, McLean said. It was unclear Wednesday whether any of those people would move over to the new facility.
"The general procedure is that the new contractor, in this case, STGi, will discuss employment with the current staff," McLean said.
Judith Gentleman, of Moravia, whose husband is a veteran who receives service from the Auburn hospital, contacted The Citizen to say that she is concerned about the clinic becoming privatized.
"I'm very distressed that some contractor is going to be taking away something from the hospital when they're doing a good job," she said.