VA reverses course on Lewiston clinic, restores specialties

Posted May 08, 2012, at 5:53 a.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — The Veterans Administration has reversed course again.

One month after the agency announced it would offer fewer specialties at its new community-based outreach clinic in Lewiston — nixing plans for both vision and hearing care — those specialties are back.

“They did a 180-degree turnaround, and now they’ve decided to go back to the original plan,” said Jerry DeWitt, one of the local veterans who worked for years to bring the clinic to Lewiston. “We’re back to plan A.”

Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, announced the change Monday.

“It seems like a long time ago when I joined with local veterans to advocate locating a clinic in this area and that work continues today,” said Michaud, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Though it has been many years, we always kept our efforts focused on the end result— robust primary and specialty care services for our veterans.”

In a statement, the VA at Togus repeated its intention Monday to provide primary care, mental health and pharmacy services. However, it added women’s health, phlebotomy, electrocardiogram testing and home care. It also announced phasing in podiatry, optometry, cardiology and urology services.

The VA said it plans to offer audiology or hearing service through its remote “tele-health” process that links clinics with providers at Togus.

“We have been working with Veterans in the Lewiston/Auburn and the Maine Congressional offices to address their concerns regarding the services at the new clinic,” Togus spokesman James Doherty said in an e-mail to the Sun Journal.

Besides Michaud, inquiries came from Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine,, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and at least seven local legislators.

“We have carefully reviewed their comments and concerns and are working diligently to address them,” Doherty said.

All wanted to know what the VA’s plans were for the Lewiston clinic.

The Department of Veterans Affairs originally intended the facility to be built in the Brunswick area, but DeWitt and others lobbied the VA and Maine’s congressional delegation to bring it here, instead. They argued that more veterans would be helped by placing the clinic in Lewiston. Michaud picked up the argument and lobbied the VA.

In February 2010, the VA committed $20 million for a long-term lease on the specially built clinic. Construction began last fall .

The clinic is at 15 Challenger Drive, just off Alfred Plourde Parkway and a short distance from Exit 80 of the Maine Turnpike. The property is owned by Maine Veterans Homes, which plans to build an adult day care center next door.

On Thursday, veterans plan to meet with leaders from Togus at the new clinic.

DeWitt said he and others will be there, asking questions, listening and watching.

“We’re happy now that they’ve turned around, and we’re going to keep close watch on them,” he said. “Last time, we thought it was a done deal.”

To read more from the Sun Journal, go to sunjournal.com.

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