BAINBRIDGE, NY (WSKG) — The VA wants to move its Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Bainbridge, a rural community in right off Interstate-88 in Chenango County, to Oneonta.
These are designed to offer veterans care without the hassle of going to a larger medical center.
Rumors of that move have intensified over the last year, but veterans, stakeholders and residents don’t know why a move would be made. Even more, they wonder if it would be better.
Veterans Left Out
I met Jim Omahen at the American Legion in Sidney this past June. He’s the legion commander here.
Omahen, who served in the Army before getting out in 1974, sits in a conference room with tile floors and fluorescent lights. He likes the Bainbridge Veterans Clinic. The care is good.
But he and other veterans feel out of the loop on why the clinic would move to Oneonta.
“We know as much as you do,” Omahen said when I asked him what was going on with the clinic. “We read something in the Daily Star and hear rumors.”
An article in the Oneonta Daily Star early this year reported the Delaware County Board of Supervisors came out against moving the Bainbridge Clinic to Oneonta.
Sitting next to Omahen at the Sidney American Legion is Jacqueline Gascon. She was an army sergeant for 12 years and was pretty ticked when she first heard the clinic might move.
“We’re veterans. We’re the people they’re serving,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you say ‘you know, we’re thinking about this, what do you guys think?”
“How Does The Owner Of The Building Not Know That They’re Going To Move”
Gascon’s remarks were like a lot of others when they first heard about a potential move.
Not only did the Delaware board come out against it, but the Chenango County board, 22nd District Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, and State Senator Fred Akshar all said they wanted the clinic to stay in Bainbridge.
And then there’s Charlie Piper.
He’s with Delaware County Veteran Services and has struggled to get a straight answer about what’s going on with the clinic for a while. Over the years, he’d hear the clinic would leave Bainbridge and then a little later he’d hear it would stay.
Early this year, he heard the contract for the Bainbridge clinic would not be renewed at the end of 2018. Those details have since changed.
Piper said the veterans he works with like Bainbridge because it’s easy to get to and easy to use.
“It’s about being in an area where they can access you,” he said. “Because right now, with this clinic, they can access the clinic.”
“If it goes to Oneonta and they go ‘I have to go there to Oneonta. I don’t have a car. I’m going to have to do this – ah I’m not going to bother’.”
That conversation with Piper was in May. He spoke to me at the Bainbridge clinic, a low-lying building with tan siding. It’s a short drive off I-88. It has a parking lot that feeds into a ground floor entryway.
“Look at this place. Look at the front. The parking lot is immaculate. It’s like, what more does he have to do,” Piper said.
That “he” Piper mentioned is sitting next to him. Matt Germond owns the building the clinic is in. He’s a chiropractor and runs his practice out of the other side.
“I didn’t know what to expect at the end of this term until I started asking questions,” Germond said. “Until Charlie [Piper] came up and started talking to me and asking questions about it.”
“When I came and talked to Matt, the first time I talked to Matt, and he said ‘no, I don’t know anything about this’,” Piper said. “How does the owner of the building not know that they’re going to move?”
That’s the crux of the whole issue. Major players don’t know what’s going to happen. Several times when I spoke to Piper, Germond or veterans I was the one giving them information.
A New Deal Until A Better Deal?
Over the summer, Germond didn’t hear anything as he got closer and closer to that December deadline when the contract was set to expire.
Finally in September, Germond received a new contract. That would keep the clinic in Bainbridge until 2020, but there was a caveat. The VA could bail on the contract with 90 days notice.
“It allows us to continue operation until that time,” said Peter Potter, the Director of Public Affairs for the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center which has jurisdiction over Bainbridge.
The VA frequently looks to move facilities if it’ll be more effective for veterans. There are also often new mandates from federal government the building needs to meet. For example, they might need more space.
But here’s the thing, Germond said he’s willing to move out of the half of the building where his business is to expand the clinic for any new requirements.
“If he’s insinuating that he can provide more care at greater accessibility he’s incorrect,” said Potter. “Because two-thirds, I mean the facts show, that two-thirds of the veterans we serve, the one’s currently getting care at Bainbridge, live closer to Oneonta.”
The facts don’t necessarily show that.
Potter is making two distinctions here: the first distance. He says the VA measures distance from a veterans house to the clinic as the crow flies. But when judging by driving distance, most veterans currently enrolled at the clinic live closer to Bainbridge or the distance is marginal.
The second distinction is which veterans count when making the decision where to put a clinic. Potter said eligible veterans matter, which includes anybody who could use the clinic – 20-somethings and other veterans who are pretty healthy and maybe don’t need the clinic right now.
When it comes to total eligible veterans, Potter said Oneonta is more of a population center than rural Bainbridge.
Serving The Underserved
However, to some locals, being in a population center shouldn’t matter.
“Rural areas are not getting services and I think this is what this is all about,” said Canice Paliotta, area resident who has been pushing to keep the clinic in Bainbridge. “We may not have the numbers, but we have people that are in need.”
Access is important for veterans, and so is information. We’ve heard from veterans, like Omahen and Gascon, who feel out of the loop.
They want to know why they haven’t been asked. Why hasn’t there been a town hall? Potter at the VA said they can’t hold these meetings until everyone who wants to bid on the government contract for the clinic has that chance.
He also doesn’t know if it makes sense to hold a town hall-like event before that.
“Because we don’t know where we’re going to be moving,” Potter* said. “It’s possible that every single bid that was within the Oneonta area does not meet what we need or what veterans need and it just happens to be that there was a bid from Bainbridge that meets everything that we need and now it’s in Bainbridge.
“Now we would’ve had a town hall for a move that turns out isn’t going to happen,” Potter added.
Now it’s the end of the year, when the contract at the Bainbridge Clinic was set to expire.
It’s been months since the clinic was initially rumored to close and move about 30 miles north. Now, that won’t happen for a little while, at least. The VA has just created new guidelines for these clinics, so the bidding process has started all over.
Those waiting to hear about the future of the clinic, will have to wait a little longer.
*Edited to reflect correct attribution