VA to boost local medical services, build clinic in Anthem

PRESCOTT – The VA Medical Center will increase its number of acute care hospital beds, offer new outpatient specialty health care services and open a community outpatient clinic in Anthem as a result of the CARES Commission study.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi announced Friday that he was accepting the recommendations of the commission to modernize the infrastructure of the VA health care system.

Prescott Director Deborah Thompson said that the local medical center would add 19 additional beds on Ward B of the hospital's third floor, increasing the number of beds for acute care patients from 25 to 44. The Northern Arizona VA also will build a community outpatient clinic in Anthem and make plans to offer additional outpatient specialty care in Prescott.

Facilities Planner Bronwyn Bruce said plans are to add a 15,000 square foot building to the campus to make room for new specialty outpatient care services. She estimated the cost of local improvements at $4 million to $5 million and said it will be "within a few years" before Congress allocates the money and improvements take place.

Thompson said that Prescott VA officials would "look first at projected needs" to decide what specialty services the Prescott VA would offer. She said changes would "probably mean some new jobs," but couldn't estimate the number of new jobs or job classifications. The Prescott VA hospital employs about 650 people.

The local VA director said Principi's decision would have a "positive affect on veteran health care in Northern Arizona. Rural communities will benefit; mental health services will be expanded and spinal cord injury services enhanced."

Thompson also said the CARES plan calls for the addition of a 3,000-niche columbarium for the ashes of veterans at the Prescott National Cemetery. The VA expects to start construction of the columbarium in the fall of 2004. About 3,000 people are buried in the cemetery just south of the junction of Highways 89 and 69.

Adding acute care beds to the Prescott campus and establishing an outpatient clinic in Anthem will allow veterans to receive health care services closer to home and reduce the number of patients seeking services from the Phoenix VA hospital, Thompson said.

About 117,000 of Arizona's 564,000 veterans received care in 2003 from Arizona VA health care centers, up from 84,000 in 2000. In 2003, the VA spent $1.3 billion in Arizona, an increase from $948 million three years earlier.

The national CARES study stands for "Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services," and is a three-year review of the infrastructure and assets of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Principi said that when it implements the changes, the VA "will be able to expand outpatient services and provide more of the care veterans want and use.

"No veterans will lose health care as a result of CARES, nor will there be any gaps in health care services," he said.

Thompson said that through the CARES 20-year program, the VA will "rid itself of a legacy of aging buildings that we do not need to provide care... and instead use resources on more medical services and medical personnel to provide better care for veterans who come to us."

Contact the reporter at dgoss@prescottaz.com