The VA Puget Sound Health Care System in 2021 will make significant changes to its outpatient network that serves the region’s veterans by closing three clinics this winter and then opening four more later in the year.
The three clinics that will close Jan. 31 are located in Lake City, Federal Way and Bellevue. They are operated under a contract with Valor Healthcare that is not being renewed, according to a statement released by the VA Puget Sound.
Three new clinics are scheduled to open by April in Edmonds, Olympia and Puyallup. The VA also announced the ground breaking of a $10 million, 26,000-square-foot outpatient clinic in Everett that is scheduled to open late in 2021.
The VA has 155,000 enrolled veterans in Western Washington, and operates facilities that include the VA Puget Sound main campus on Beacon Hill, a second campus at American Lake and seven clinics around the region and a resource and referral center in Georgetown.
VA Puget Sound Director Michael Tadych said the new clinics are intended to make it easier to get care and complement the Mission Act. This legislation, passed by Congress in 2018, was designed to give veterans more ways to access health care, including through approved medical providers that are not part of the VA system. He called the new clinics “further proof of the VA Puget Sound’s commitment to expanding primary care locations …” in a statement.
The new Everett clinic will be similar to a clinic now operating in Silverdale that will include both primary and some specialty care with services that include physical and occupational therapy, diagnostic, ultrasound and mental health. The clinic will be able to serve 6,000 to 8,000 veterans.
The three new micro-clinics in Edmonds, Puyallup and Olympia will provide services that include primary care, mental health and social work, and will be able to service about 11,000 veterans, which is about the same amount who are served by the three clinics that are closing.
Some veterans have expressed concern about the closure of the three contract clinics in Bellevue, Federal Way and Lake City.
Steve Downey, a Puget Sound veteran who served in the Vietnam War, said these three clinics have been “a God send,” particularly for disabled veterans who live near these clinics and would have a harder time using public transportation to access more distant sites.
“This is absolutely the worst move,” Downey said.
The Puget Sound VA, in its written statement, said that virtual teams will be set up to help serve veterans of these three clinics during the months between the Jan. 31 closure date and the opening of the new clinics.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said Monday she hopes that the VA “effectively communicates these changes to Puget Sound veterans so that they are able to continue receiving care without unnecessary confusion.”
“In order to justify these decisions, I expect access to care to improve and new clinics to be brought online rapidly, and for VA to demonstrate with evidence that this is taking place to me and the rest of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee,” Murray said.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said the opening of the Everett clinic will bring VA health care closer to north Puget Sound veterans, and thanked community stakeholders and the VA Puget Sound leadership for making it happen.
The VA Puget Sound has gone through a decade of growth that has increased by 60% the population it serves. Investments have included a $121 million mental health and research building that opened in Seattle in March 2019 and a 15,000-square-foot community-based outpatient clinic in Silverdale that opened in December 2019.