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Rite Aid Clinic

The former Rite Aid at 47 E. Genesee St. in Auburn will be converted into a new health care clinic for veterans.

In an announcement that surprised many people in Cayuga County, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Jan. 2 said it will be moving its Auburn outpatient clinic from Auburn Community Hospital to a vacant building on the edge of the city's downtown.

As the provider of the clinic for more than 20 years, the hospital has expressed concerns about the decision to award the contract to a private, national clinic operator named STG International. It is hoping that the VA's decision will be reconsidered, and has asked for the help of its congressional representatives in getting that message to the VA.

The VA this week issued a statement that makes a reversal seem unlikely. The plan is to have STG open the new clinic in the spring at the former Rite Aid on East Genesee Street.

As we evaluate the situation, it's hard to determine if the VA is making the right decision. A system is in place to have clinic contracts competitively bid every five years, which can be a good practice for ensuring quality. On the other hand, it's not necessarily good for veterans receiving care to be shuffled around to different facilities and doctors, especially if they are satisfied with the care they now receive. ACH insists that patient surveys reflect that the veterans in its clinic are happy.

One thing we urge our federal representatives to dig into and report back to the community is the degree to which patient feedback was involved in this decision. We heard from many veterans' families who said this news blindsided them. That's not a good reflection on this process.

We also are concerned about accountability to the local public with the selection of a large private operator based outside Washington. ACH has a board of directors of community residents and managers who are accessible to our veterans. STG's leaders are in northern Virginia.

All of that said, we also don't subscribe to the philosophy that ACH should automatically get this contract simply because they are local and a big employer. The most important factor by far must be what's in the best interests of the veterans receiving care. We hope the public can get the information to answer that question with more certainty than what's been provided so far.

The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.

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