PERU – The Peru VA outpatient clinic is set to double in size and staff next year as part of effort to expand healthcare services to veterans throughout northern Indiana.
The VA is currently in the process of seeking property to increase the size of the facility to around 20,000 square feet. That will double the current number of primary-care providers at the clinic from three to six, according to Jay Miller, associate director of operations for the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, which oversees the Peru clinic.
He said the facility at 750 N. Broadway was originally slated for an expansion in 2020, but that process has been expedited because of feedback from area veterans, who expressed concerns about wait times and the quality of care during a VA town hall meeting in December.
Now, the new facility is tentatively set to open late next year and double the amount of vets it can service from approximately 3,000 to around 6,000.
“We’re being proactive,” Miller said. “We’re moving forward now before we’re forced to move or doing lease extensions at the current clinic. We’re trying to get ahead of the game, while still having time to thoughtfully do something that works best for veterans.”
The project is still in its early phases, he said, but officials are considering either building a new clinic or moving into an existing building which meets project specifications.
Miller said the new facility is slated to expand mental-health services, including suicide-prevention efforts, and offer more robust telemedicine options. It is also projected to house new physical-rehabilitation services.
He said the clinic should also have the capability to digitally scan measurements for prosthetic body parts, which will be constructed at a new VA lab in Marion and shipped back to Peru.
Miller said the expansion in Peru is now the third major project underway at VA facilities in northern Indiana. The other projects include expanding the Muncie VA outpatient clinic and constructing a new, 90,000-square-foot healthcare center in Mishawaka, which is set to open in September.
The announcement of the Peru project comes during a push by Howard County officials to bring some kind of VA facility to Kokomo.
A committee made up of local officials and veterans was formed in January to lobby the VA about getting a clinic in the county, which officials say has the highest number of veterans per capita of any county in the state.
The initial plan proposed establishing a pilot program would have allowed veterans to see non-VA practitioners. The program was to work alongside the VA’s Choice program, which allows veterans to seek care with private-sector physicians at VA’s expense.
However, that proposal has been put in limbo as federal lawmakers debate how to fully fund the Choice program, which was set to run out of money quicker than expected due to the unanticipated growth of the program.
Despite the question mark surrounding Choice, the VA is still considering bringing some kind of facility to Kokomo, Miller said.
“We’re exploring opportunities right now as we speak,” he said Monday.
One option is installing a telemedicine clinic somewhere in the city, which would allow veterans to talk to health providers via video instead of travelling out of county. Miller said his office this week plans to put together details to determine how much space they would need.
“We have a large veteran population in Kokomo, so it just makes good sense,” he said.”
Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman, who serves on the local committee to bring a veterans' facility to Kokomo and has met recently with VA officials, said he remains hopeful the VA will install some kind of facility in the city.
“We’re looking at what all the potential options are right now,” he said. “If we could do some kind of telemedicine or urgent care clinic here to take care of immediate needs, along with the expansion of the Peru clinic, that might go a long way in helping our veterans.”
The announcement of the Peru expansion comes after the clinic came under scrutiny in March, when reports of an internal VA investigation revealed employees there changed veterans’ pain medication without doing physical assessments and scheduled appointments without patients’ knowledge.
The report sparked U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski and members of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs to send a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin asking for details on the VA’s follow up to the investigation, including any action being taken against the employees named in the report.
The VA responded to the letter earlier this month, and reported two employees had been fired and another suspended because of the investigation. Miami County Veteran’s Service Officer Jay Kendall confirmed one of the employees let go was Jean Herd, a nurse practitioner who was much loved by area veterans.
Herd is now appealing her termination and is set for an arbitration hearing with a judge, Kendall said.