HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Hampton’s more than 150-year-old VA medical center could close for good under a recommendation floated by department leadership — and be replaced by new facilities in Newport News, Norfolk and maybe even a partnership with the Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
The Department of Veterans Affairs released the plans Monday as part of its Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) report which aims to “help VA build a health care network with the right facilities, in the right places, to provide the right care for all Veterans,” according to a release.
The report finds the closing the Hampton VA Medical Center would allow for the relocation of services to more modern and conveniently located facilities for veterans.
But recommendations are just that, recommendations, and veterans and community leaders alike will have time to weigh in before a final decision is made.
The current Hampton VA Medical Center was built in 1940 and sits on 84.2 acres.
The report stated its most recent renovation was in 2012 and current facility condition assessment deficiencies are about $172.9 million.
“The existing Hampton VAMC’s aging infrastructure has major architecture and engineering challenges that make it impractical and inefficient to continue investing in the facility to provide patient care,” the AIR report found.
In addition, flooding and traffic concerns caused by the nearby Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel were singled out as reasons why the center should close.
Upon closure, services currently performed in Hampton would move to brand new VA Medical Centers in Newport News and Norfolk, neither of which had been publicly announced before.
Both of those would have a community living center (CLC), residential rehabilitation treatment programs (RRTP), primary care, outpatient mental health, and outpatient specialty care services.
Inpatient services would still be provided at the Richmond VA medical center. Inpatient spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) services will also be consolidated in a modern facility at the existing Richmond center.
The report states that “inpatient medical surgical care” is currently “a low volume program” in Hampton and the long-term plan is to deliver VA-provided acute care services closer to where Veterans live. That includes pursuing a partnership with the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth.
However, officials in neither Norfolk or Newport News has heard of land the VA is eying for their new medical centers.
The man most surprised by the recommendation was the mayor of Hampton: Donnie Tuck.
“The whole thing has caught us by surprise because we saw investments being made at the VA medical center,” Tuck said Tuesday. “We are concerned because in Virginia we have the highest number of veterans per capita of any other city.”
Tuck said losing the facility would for certain have an economic impact too, as many employees of the VA live in Hampton and patients support local businesses.
He said he hopes to speak with the VA to learn more about the recommendation over the coming months. He takes issue with the HRBT being cited as an issue, as the a $3.8 billion expansion effort is underway.
“Sometime in the fall of 2025 the congestion issue should be resolved,” Tuck said.
The plan also calls for the closure of the existing Chesapeake community-based outpatient clinic at 1987 S. Military Highway when the new one opens in 2024 off Knells Ridge Boulevard.
The report said the cost of constructing the new facility would be roughly $3.75 billion while doing nothing would cost $2.3 billion.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough explained in the release that the “is the result of years of research and analysis,” but the real input is still to come.
The AIR Commission will hold public hearings on the VA’s recommendations before it submits its own recommendations to the president for further review in 2023.
Hampton VA isn’t the only facility being eyed for closure. Another 16 facilities slated for closure are in 11 states, including New York, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, among others.
Following the release of the report, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) released a statement. Warner has often visited the Hampton VA to try and address its struggling reputation.
“For years, I’ve pushed to make sure that Virginia’s veterans have access to quality and timely health care that they have earned through years of service to our country. I’m pleased to see the Department of Veterans Affairs issue these critical recommendations as a preliminary but notable step in meeting its obligations under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 – legislation I was proud to support. I look forward to engaging with veterans and communities around Virginia to make sure that these recommendations would live up to their stated aim of effectively meeting the future health care demands of our growing veteran population here in the Commonwealth.”Sen. Mark Warner, (D) Va.