Coatesville VA could face closure in modernization move

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

The Veterans Administration Hospital in Coatesville, which opened in 1930.

CALN — The Coatesville Veterans Administration Hospital may be one of 17 national VA facilities to face closure within the next few years, with a new facility proposed in the King of Prussia area, if a proposed plan is approved.

The possible closure would be part of a national effort to modernize and improve veterans medical care across the nation, VA officials said this week.

“VA came to these recommendations by asking ourselves one question above all else: what’s best for the Veterans we serve? Because that is our number one goal, today and every day. That’s what our Asset and Infrastructure Review recommendations are all about,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in a press release. “We’ve spent the last several weeks and months communicating about this with VA employees, union partners, state partners, Veteran service organizations, Congress, and more. I’m continuing to consult with our unions, and will do so moving forward, because I so appreciate the strong partnership we have with them.”

Word of the possible closing began to filter out Monday, as some staff at the VA facility learned of the proposed closure. The news came as something of a surprise — but local officials immediately expressed concern about the impact on local patient care.

“Despite open lines of communication, my office wasn’t made aware of the recommendation to drastically alter services in Coatesville in advance, so I’m still digesting the information in this report,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-16) — who is also an Air Force veteran. “My initial reaction is dismay and I’m inclined to fight the Biden Administration on the proposal. I will, however, be talking with veterans in our community who would be most impacted by this potential move to get their views and advice.”

The plan calls for closure of the Coatesville facility — to be replaced by an outpatient clinic locally — with a new full facility in the King of Prussia area. The move is sparked by deficiencies in the facility, built in 1930. Estimates suggest that it would cost more than $120 million to bring the facility up to current standards, with a maintenance cost of more than $15 million a year.

No immediate changes to services or staffing are expected in the near term, as a final decision is unlikely before 2023 — or longer — as the new facilities would need to be constructed before the closure of the Coatesville VA. That process could take as long as a decade, legislative sources said Wednesday. 

According to the VA, the report, which includes the recommendation of constructing new and/or modernizing existing VA health care facilities, realignments, and expanding VA partnerships, is just the start of a lengthy process to evaluate the potential closure of facilities.

The Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission has until January 31, 2023, to review the Secretary’s recommendation and will throughout 2022, hold public hearings, visit VA facilities, and meet with employees/veterans. The AIR Commission will then forward their recommendations to the President, who will determine whether or not to submit those recommendations to Congress.

Some issues noted by local officials: the current mental health facility at the VA would be replaced by facilities in Philadelphia and Lebanon — potentially putting a heavy travel burden on Chester County patients. This comes on the heels of the closure of Brandywine Hospital — and its inpatient Mental Health care facility — leaving the county very short of such services.

The county’s lack of comprehensive mass transit could be a barrier to veterans getting medical care — those without their own transportation may have problems getting to a King of Prussia site, particularly from the western portion of the county.

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