Work begins on new veterans clinic building in Cody

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Work is underway to renovate a building in Cody to make it the new site of the veterans clinic for the Big Horn Basin. 

A spokesman for Valor Healthcare, which received the 5-year contract award for the clinic this summer, said he expects the new Community Based Outpatient Clinic to open sometime around the middle of November. 

Meanwhile, the veterans clinic at Powell Valley Clinic will remain open until Nov. 30 to provide some overlap and transition time, said Kristina Miller, public affairs officer for the Sheridan VA Health Care System.

Valor Healthcare, based in Texas, was established in 2004 and contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to run about 30 veterans clinics nationwide.

Jimmy Phillips, a Valor spokesman, said many of the company’s employees are veterans.

“They understand the veteran community. ... We integrate well into the community and like to be the ‘nerve center’ of the veteran community to provide information” as well as medical services, he said.

Valor Healthcare and Powell Valley Healthcare were two of three health care providers that submitted bids to house the clinic.

The clinic will be located at 1432 Rumsey Avenue in Cody, Miller said, roughly behind Wells Fargo Bank.

Phillips said Valor Healthcare was hesitant initially to release the location for the new VA clinic, which will undergo a significant renovation before the clinic opens in November.

“The building is getting a significant facelift,” he said. “What you see now versus what you see at the end should be a night-and-day difference.”

Valor is leasing the property, he said.

Since the contract was awarded, some people have approached Valor about alternate locations, Phillips said, “but the VA has said no, this is where the site was submitted and approved, and that’s where it’s going to be.”

PVHC hoped to win bid

Powell Valley Healthcare has run the clinic for the past 18 years. Mike Gilmore, PVHC vice president for outpatient services, said he believes the loss of the contract was mainly due to new requirements set by the Veterans Administration.

“They wanted a facility that catered exclusively to veterans,” with its own waiting room, telephone lines and medical staff, Gilmore said Monday. “I think what they were really going for is, they wanted a separate building that only saw VA patients.”

At Powell Valley Healthcare, the current VA clinic is co-located with Powell Valley Clinic.

Gilmore said PVHC submitted a bid despite its inability to provide a separate facility and services.

“We were hoping they would be happy with what we’ve done” up to this point, he said.

The VA request for proposals required at least one physician for every 1,200 VA patients or one physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner for every 900 patients, he said.

Powell Valley Healthcare has five physicians who care for veterans, but they see other patients as well, Gilmore said.

“Our physicians have good relationships with their patients [from differing backgrounds], so they didn’t want to limit their practice to veterans,” he said.

The RFP also required the clinic to have one nurse, one telemedicine staff member and a half-time mental health worker, all of whom would serve veterans only. Gilmore said Powell Valley Healthcare could have met those staffing requirements.

PVHC CEO Terry Odom said the organization does not yet know the financial impact of losing the VA clinic.

Bid information not available

Miller said Valor received the contract because it “met all of the requirements of the solicitation.” She also said the VA could not release the bid information, say which bid was most or least expensive or provide the contract’s cost to the VA.

Miller did provide the four factors used to evaluate the bid:

Factor 1 — (the most important) technical capability, including capability and experience, staffing, geographic location, and quality management and performance.

Factor 2 — past performance.

Factor 3 — veteran preference.

Factor 4 — (the least important) price.

“The cumulative rating of Factors 1 ... are significantly more important to the government when compared to price (Factor 4), for the purposes of determining the best value to the government,” the document states.

“The contractors did receive a debriefing letter with the evaluation of their bid, but we are unable to provide them to you,” Miller said Wednesday in an email.

Veterans ‘disappointed’

Gilmore said many area veterans are unhappy about the upcoming clinic change.

“We’ve heard from a lot of disappointed patients,” he said. “They enjoyed their relationships with the physicians and the staff here.”

Jerry Clark, commander of the Powell American Legion post, said he’s heard complaints from veterans as well.

Lori Lotten of Powell is one of those disappointed veterans.

“I am so mad right now,” she said last week. In fact, Lotten said she may buy private insurance in order to continue seeing Dr. Kelly Christensen, who has been her doctor for 19 years.

“I’ll get registered at the new clinic and meet the new doctor, but it’s pretty likely I’ll be going back to Kelly [Christensen]. He knows me. He knows what’s wrong with me,” Lotten said.

She said veterans are creatures of habit and “we find our comfort and solace in what we know.”

In addition to her own concerns, “Powell Valley Healthcare doesn’t need to take the hit right now,” Lotten said. “I wish we could just stop it now.”

Lotten said it’s not important to her to have a separate facility for veterans.

“That’s not going to provide better health care than we get here at Powell Valley Healthcare,” she said. “I don’t think having it at Powell Valley Clinic has hindered me at all. Why fix what isn’t broken?”

The important thing is the trust that is established between doctor and patient, she said. “How many visits is it going to take for that [new] doctor to recognize who I am and what my health issues are?” she wondered.

Lotten is encouraging other veterans who feel as she does to call the Veterans Affairs complaint line to express their displeasure.

Miller said the bid process is over, and the decision to award the contract to Valor Healthcare is not reversible.

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