EDITORIAL: VA should explain clinic move

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We’d like nothing more than to proclaim that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was wrong to move the local clinic for military veterans from Powell to Cody. This newspaper is an advocate for Powell and it hurts to see services leave this community and go somewhere else. For that reason, it was disappointing to see the Big Horn Basin’s Community Based Outreach Clinic taken away from Powell Valley Healthcare and awarded to Texas-based Valor Healthcare for an as-to-be-constructed facility in Cody.

But as much as we’d like to find a reason to fault the clinic’s move, we can’t — not because we agree with the decision, but because the VA has offered so little information we don’t know what to think.

On that point, the facts are clear: The department has withheld too much basic information about why it’s making a change that will impact many local veterans.

Powell Valley Healthcare has run the Community Based Outreach Clinic for the last 18 years. Over that time, many veterans have built relationships with PVHC doctors and staffers. Requiring veterans to form new connections with Valor Healthcare personnel in Cody will be at best an inconvenience. We assume that’s something the VA factored into its decision, but given the dearth of information the department has offered, it’s unclear what weight that was given.

The VA has disclosed that Valor was the only bidder to meet the government’s specifications.

“I think what they were really going for is, they wanted a separate building that only saw VA patients,” said Mike Gilmore, Powell Valley Healthcare’s vice president for outpatient services.

PVHC had placed the VA clinic in the same building as its clinic for other patients, with the general public and veterans sharing the same waiting areas and doctors. We’re unsure why that was a problem, but we hope it wasn’t the result of some one-size-fits-all edict at the national level.

The VA evaluated the bids for the clinic using four factors: technical capability (including capability and experience), past performance, veteran preference and price.

A spokeswoman for the department in Sheridan said the actual bids were not public information; she also refused to rank the bids from most to least expensive or even say how much the contract with Valor will cost taxpayers.

The VA did say that price was the least important factor in its deliberations, which seems defensible — especially when it comes to providing health care to the men and women who’ve served our country in the military; after all, what use is a cheap price if it comes from a bidder with a bad track record?

What’s indefensible, however, is the idea that an arm of our federal government somehow feels the law allows them to make its contracts and expenditures a secret.

Can you imagine if local governments conducted their business in the same way as the VA has here? It’s hard to picture a mayor or county commissioner explaining that, after receiving bids for a new truck, they picked a Texas dealership that offered a confidential price that may or may not have been more expensive than a bid from a local dealer.

It’s possible that the VA had a great reason for abandoning Powell Valley Healthcare’s facilities and moving the outreach clinic to a soon-to-be-renovated warehouse in Cody. It may also turn out to be the best thing for local veterans. Regardless, the VA owes us all a better explanation.

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