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VA plans to expand services in Knoxville and open 'state-of-the-art' medical facility

Commercial Appeal - 1/5/2018

Jan. 05--WASHINGTON -- The Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday it is looking to expand health care services for veterans in the Knoxville area and will begin searching within the next year for a new facility to consolidate all of its medical services.

The new building would not be a VA hospital, a goal long sought by Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. and other local leaders. But it would mean that many more services are available to veterans who have had to drive elsewhere for specialty care.

Knoxville services all in one place

"I'm very pleased about the whole thing," said Duncan, a Knoxville Republican. "They basically have expanded their services over the last year or two and have more expansion going into 2018. By the time all of that is completed, they're going to be doing everything that would be done in a major hospital."

Duncan said the VA informed him of its expansion plans and its intention to put all of its Knoxville-based services under one roof during a conference call just before Christmas.

Sandra Glover Hood, a spokeswoman for the VA'sMidSouth Healthcare Network, confirmed the agency's expansion plans.

The new medical facility would be a state-of-the-art complex that would replace the William C. Tallent VA Outpatient Clinic on Ray Means Boulevard and the two annexes where VA services also are offered.

The outpatient clinic served 18,436 patients last year. The need for veterans services is projected to grow over the next decade, Hood said.

The time frame for opening the new facility is uncertain, Hood said, because major projects must go through a prioritization and approval process before design work and construction can begin. The timing also could depend on when the funding is available, she said.

Meanwhile, the VA plans to expand current services in the coming months to include a substance abuse counselor, palliative care consultations, a gastroenterologist and two additional primary care teams and two mental health providers.

Last year, the VA added new equipment used to offer specialty treatment, including wound care and dermatology. It also expanded women's health exams and opened a second annex that included MRI and fluoroscopy services.

"There has been a need for the VA to expand its work," Duncan said. "They certainly have done that."

Right now, primary care and some specialty services are available to veterans at the outpatient clinic and the two annexes.

Driving 100-plus miles

But when hospitalization is required or other specialty care is needed, veterans often must drive more than 100 miles each way to the closest VA hospital, the Mountain Home VA Medical Center near Johnson City. In some cases, they are referred to the Nashville VA Medical Center.

Duncan has been pushing since 2014 for the federal government to open a VA hospital on the site of the old St. Mary's hospital.

Tennova Healthcare owns the facility and uses it to house the Physicians Regional Medical Center, but is planning to build a new hospital in West Knoxville. Duncan has suggested the VA could partner with Tennova on a new VA hospital at the St. Mary's site.

Hood, however, said the VA currently has no plans for the St. Mary's site.

Regardless, Duncan said he is satisfied with the VA's expansion plans in Knoxville.

"I don't see how it could have been better as far as what we were hoping to get," he said.


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