New VA clinic still set for fall opening despite COVID obstacles

Carson Gerber, Kokomo Tribune, Ind.
·3 min read

Apr. 27—BUNKER HILL — The Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic under construction at the Grissom Aeroplex is still on track to open this fall despite soaring construction costs and labor shortages caused by the pandemic.

The multimillion dollar project broke ground in September at 1496 W. Hoosier Blvd. to build the new 20,000-square-foot clinic that will double the size of the current clinic in Peru and offer more services.

Don Cook, a manager at BC Development, which has been contracted by the VA to build the clinic, said construction was scheduled to be done by the end of August, and that should still hold true despite obstacles created by the pandemic.

"It's really gone well considering all the shortages we've had with COVID, especially with materials and labor," he said. "It's been a challenge, but it's been a challenge for every project going on right now."

Once the structure is complete, the VA will move in soon afterward and lease the building from BC Development. The clinic will be open to veterans sometime in the fall, according to VA officials.

Michael Hershman, director of the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, which oversees the facility, said in a previous interview the new site will increase the current number of primary care physician teams from three to five.

The facility will also add three spaces for mental health services and a 1,000-foot area for physical therapy, which is not currently offered at the Peru clinic.

Four other rooms will allow veterans to have telehealth visits with doctors and specialists at other VA facilities around the state.

"This means more care and more expanded services for our veterans across this community," Hershman said. "Our motto at Indiana Northern Healthcare System is excellence, every veteran, every encounter. This new clinic is part of that mission and part of that motto."

VA officials said the new facility will serve veterans in Miami, Howard, Cass, Wabash, Fulton and Pulaski counties, and the new location along U.S. 31 will provide easy access for veterans in all those counties. The current clinic serves around 3,300 veterans.

Alex Sharpe, pubic affairs specialist with VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, said the VA is leasing the site of the current facility, so the building would be turned back over to the owner once the clinic moves.

VA officials have been discussing the construction of the new clinic since 2017, and its location became a point of controversy after officials in Howard County pushed to get the new facility closer to Kokomo.

Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman said in 2019 that the county had been taken off the table as a potential site because of politics, and brought up the issue with U.S. Sen. Todd Young during a meeting of the Military Foundation.

That came after the closure of the part-time VA clinic that opened in Kokomo in February 2018. That VA outpatient facility was housed inside the current city-county clinic at 620 N. Bell St. and was open two days a week to see area veterans.

In January 2019, the clinic stopped seeing patients and moved out of the city-county facility, less than a year after it opened.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.