10.26.15

SCHUMER REVEALS: ROCHESTER IS ONLY MAJOR UPSTATE METRO AREA WITHOUT A VA OUTPATIENT SURGERY FACILITY; VETERANS CAN BE FORCED TO TRAVEL OVER 70 MILES TO ACCESS MEDICAL TREATMENT THAT THEY NEED & DESERVE; SENATOR URGES VA TO GREENLIGHT PLAN TO BUILD ‘PHASE TWO’ SURGICAL ADDITION

VA Ambulatory Outpatient Surgery Services Are Currently Only Provided At VA Facilities In Buffalo, Syracuse, And Albany, But Not In The Rochester-Finger Lakes Area, Which Is Home To 68,936 Veterans  

Schumer Says The New Upcoming 84,000 Sq Ft VA Outpatient Clinic In Monroe County Is a Great Start, But Upgrades Can’t Stop There; Schumer Pushes VA to Move Forward With Plans for the 2nd Phase of Construction for a Clinic for Outpatient Surgery  

Schumer: Rochester-Area Veterans Should Have Access To The Care That They Need And Deserve

Standing at the Veteran’s Outreach Center in Rochester, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed his plan to expand the availability of convenient, high-quality medical care for Rochester area veterans, who are sometimes required to travel up to 70 miles for treatment. Schumer explained that the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region is home to approximately 68,936 veterans, with 43,341 – nearly two thirds – living Monroe County. However, since the nearest U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) outpatient surgery facilities are in Buffalo, Syracuse, or Albany veterans enrolled in VA health care living in the Rochester region are currently forced to travel to other in order to access outpatient surgery services or at best visit a local non-VA provider if and when available. 

“Our veterans bravely protected the freedoms we cherish while serving our country, and it is up to us to make sure veterans have all the high-quality healthcare services they need when they return home, without having to drive nearly 70 miles out of the way to receive critical procedures.” said Schumer. "That is why, I’m urging the VA to approve the critical second step of this project that would bring such a facility to the Rochester area, so the current project can continue moving forward without delay and veterans can get more local access to specialized healthcare."

Schumer said that the VA is now moving forward to create a new 84,000 square foot Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Monroe County to replace the existing 49,000 VA Clinic on Westfall Road in Rochester. Despite this, the VA has said a new ambulatory surgery facility will not be included because the VA determined a design change would delay the start of construction by years. Schumer is therefore urging the VA to move forward with plans that would add this critical outpatient service in a second phase, allowing construction on the initial facility to move forward and these critical services to be brought to the Rochester area.

Currently, in Monroe County, the VA has leased 49,000 square feet for its outpatient clinic, which serves as the main clinic in the Monroe County area and where veterans who have VA insurance can go to receive primary care and visit specialists. At this facility, there are also dental services, a blood testing lab, a pharmacy and related services. The VA also leases 14,000 square feet of space in the area, where two of their smaller satellite facilities house behavior and mental health services, programs for the area’s homeless veterans and a rehab treatment center, along with eye care and podiatry services. The Monroe County clinic falls under the “larger” Canandaigua VA Medical Campus and, together, they serve all of the VA patients in the Rochester Finger Lakes Region. However, in recent years, it has become clear that more space is needed to house these services and more for area veterans.

In September 2011, Schumer announced that the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act he backed had authorized more than $9 million in federal funding for the construction of an expanded, 84,000 square foot VA clinic in Monroe County. This new facility will replace the current 49,000 square foot outpatient clinic at Westfall Road and expand its current services with a bigger facility. The VA prioritized the plan to construct the new clinic under their then-Strategic Capital Investment Plan (SCIP) that determined a larger space was needed to meet the needs of the large Rochester population center. Specifically, the VA determined that the Rochester clinic had more enrolled patients than any other clinic in Upstate NY, and projected demand for outpatient visits was expected to increase by up to 10 percent over the coming 20 years, particularly with the wind-down in wars overseas. This, combined with the fact that parking is inadequate at the 49,000 square foot current outpatient clinic, led to the VA to green-light the plan to fund this new 84,000 square foot space for the clinic, complete with 672 parking spaces that will double the current capacity.

Now, four years later, the search for a new clinic location in Monroe County is now underway. Schumer said the VA put out their bid package in June and is now expected to award the contract for a new, long-term lease within the next six months. It will double available parking, expand space for existing services and include new services like CT scan services and Endoscopy.  However, while Schumer said this new facility is a great step forward, upgrades to the outpatient services provided in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region cannot stop. Specifically, Schumer said it is unacceptable that the VA did not include ambulatory outpatient surgery facilities to this new plan. As a result, he is pushing the VA to move forward with plans that would add on a “phase two” -- a critical second step -- of construction and add clinical space for an outpatient surgery center in Rochester. Schumer said it is good news that this new clinic is expected to begin construction in 2017 and open to patients by 2018, but the upgrades cannot stop there and must include plans to add the outpatient surgery services in Rochester so that patients are not forced to travel nearly 70 miles, in some cases, out of the way to receive care

Currently, the VA is considering a plan to consolidate its mental health services, rehab services and homeless programs into one location. Right now, they are housed in two smaller satellite offices and will not be incorporated into the new, 84,000square foot facility. As a result, Schumer said these services and the outpatient surgery services should all be included in the proposed “phase two” of the project. Schumer said that while the VA moves forward on construction of the new clinic, it should also consider this second phase of the project concurrently, so that the new clinic’s construction is not delayed but the vital outpatient surgery services that are needed in Rochester are included in some way. Schumer is pushing the VA to swiftly green-light the project in its upcoming FY 2017 Strategic Capital Investment Plan (SCIP), currently under development.

Schumer argued that, now that the VA is moving toward a more outpatient-centered model of care, it makes sense to finally close this gap in available services and add in outpatient surgical capacity in Rochester. If this center were located in Rochester, Schumer said, veterans would not be subjected to traveling across Upstate NY to receive outpatient ambulatory surgical procedures. Outpatient “ambulatory” surgery services are any basic surgery that does not require an overnight hospital stay, including things like colonoscopies, removal of a skin cancer, and an appendectomy. While outpatient surgeries do not require an overnight hospital stay, patients may need to be sedated. Particularly for older veterans, it can be a burden to have to drive to Buffalo, Albany or Syracuse, undergo a procedure perhaps while sedated and then have to drive home. Schumer said these vital services must be more convenient and close by for Rochester area veterans.

Schumer was joined by Todd Baxter, Executive Director of the Veterans Outreach Center, Wayne Thompson, Chairman of the Finger Lakes Advocacy Council, Brian Mitchell, Monroe County American Legion County Commander, Vietnam Veteran Frank D'Ambra, and Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran Chuck Butera who have both had to travel to Buffalo VA facilities for treatment.

Todd Baxter, Executive Director of the Veterans Outreach Center said, “We have a solemn obligation to care for our veterans and that includes ensuring they have good, accessible health care including outpatient surgery.  I appreciate Senator Schumer’s help to urge the VA to approve adding new outpatient surgery services here in Rochester.”

Wayne Thompson, Chairman of the Finger Lakes Advocacy Council said, “The Rochester Finger Lakes region is the only major metropolitan area in Upstate New York without local VA outpatient surgery services.  This has put a hardship on veterans and their families because the lack of outpatient surgery services means local veterans now need to travel to Buffalo, Syracuse or Albany and/or obtain some surgical procedures from local private hospitals. We understand that the VA is considering a phase two of construction for a facility that would include outpatient surgical facilities following the construction of the new Rochester Outpatient Clinic.  With 68,936 Veterans living throughout the region served by the Canandaigua/Rochester VA facilities, including 43,341 in Monroe County alone, the need is clear for local VA ambulatory surgery services and we appreciate Senator Schumer’s support to urge the VA’s approval.” 

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the VA appears below:

Dear Secretary McDonald,

I write to request that the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) prioritize funding in the VA’s upcoming Fiscal Year 2017 Strategic Capital Investment Plan (SCIP) for the creation of an ambulatory surgical facility in Monroe County, New York.  As you know, ambulatory surgery services are currently provided at VA facilities in Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany, but not in the Rochester area, which is currently home to 68,936 veterans. Unfortunately, this means VA patients living in the Rochester-Canandaigua, New York VA catchment area who require outpatient surgery must travel to VA medical centers in Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany. Alternatively, they must visit a local non-VA provider when available.  Prioritizing a new surgical facility will not only close this gap and prevent long-distance traveling for Rochester area VA patients immediately after they have undergone surgery, it will complement the new 84,000 sq ft VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) that the VA plans to establish in Monroe County starting in the spring of 2016.   

The development of the new 84,000 sq ft VA Outpatient Clinic creates a unique opportunity to improve and expand the level of VA care throughout the Rochester region.  The new clinic will replace the existing smaller VA Clinic in Monroe County, double parking capacity to 672 spaces, and provide new services including CT Scan/Radiology and Endoscopy along with maintaining existing services like dental, primary and specialty care.   However, I understand the VA plans to continue to lease separate additional spaces in Monroe County to house VA Behavioral Health services (counseling, homeless, rehab, and day treatment) as the behavioral health services cannot fit in the new clinic space and because making changes to the scope of the planned clinic to add additional space would severely delay the start of the clinic’s construction this spring.  Instead, I understand, through the Strategic Capital Investment Plan process, that the VA will consider the construction of a “phase II” addition to house both the Behavioral Health services as well as a new ambulatory surgery facility.

Therefore, I urge you to not only consider the construction of a “phase II” facility that will house ambulatory surgery, but to prioritize it for funding approval in the upcoming FY17 Strategic Capital Investment Plan.  Your attention to this matter will help ensure construction of an ambulatory surgery facility which will dovetail with the construction of the new Outpatient Clinic. This approval is essential to meet the needs of Rochester area VA patients who now are lacking local VA outpatient surgery care.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff if we can provide any additional information in support of this request.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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