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Hopes dim for a veterans hospital in Roane County

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By Damon Lawrence

Roane County’s hope for a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital looks bleak at this point.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander received a letter last month from John Dandridge Jr., director of the VA MidSouth Healthcare Network, explaining why the VA didn’t think Harriman’s Roane Medical Center was a suitable site.
“At this time, given what we currently know and project, there is not a feasible justification for construction or for operating a VA hospital in Harriman, Tenn.,” Dandridge said in the letter.
Alexander expressed disappointment in the news.
“We’ve been working with Roane County to help them make the best case they can for the new veterans hospital facility, because veterans need the best possible care they can get,” Alexander said. “Unfortunately this isn’t the result Roane County veterans were hoping for, so we will continue to look for ways to help our veterans get the care they deserve.”
Alexander sent correspondence to Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, on behalf of local officials who want to convert Roane Medical into a VA hospital.
When determining the need for a new facility, Dandridge said the Veterans Health Administration reviews a number of criteria, including enrollee population, projected demand for health care services, space requirements and the condition of existing facilities.
“VA’s thorough and statistically rigorous planning ensures that veterans receive the highest quality care in the most appropriate locations for inpatient and outpatient services,” Dandridge said.
Dandridge said that in addition to VA hospitals serving veterans in Nashville, Murfreesboro and Johnson City, there are also two large clinics in Chattanooga and Knoxville.
“The larger clinics offer a variety of specialty services,” he said. “Inpatient services are provided at VA hospitals or in the case of emergent needs, in community health care facilities.”
Dandridge also cited the VA Outpatient Clinic in Rockwood.
“This CBOC (community-based outpatient clinic) has been operational for two years and has not yet reached capacity,” he said. “There are 3,335 enrolled veterans residing within 30 minutes of Harriman, Tenn. The projected need for in-patient beds continues to decline in this market ...”
Local veterans were recently informed that the Rockwood clinic will be closing at the end of the month. Dandridge didn’t mention that in his letter to Alexander.