VA pledges to build care facilities in valley

A nursing home for veterans will be built in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but the Department of Veterans Affairs won't decide until next year whether to choose a site in Modesto or French Camp, in San Joaquin County.

The decision by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson calls for vacating what's left of the Livermore VA Hospital, as part of a national initiative to put medical facilities closer to where veterans live.

But there will be no changes at the Livermore campus until new facilities are built in the Central Valley and East Bay in 2015 at the earliest, said Kerri Childress, a spokeswoman for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

A 120-bed nursing home and some clinical services remain at the 60-year-old Livermore medical center.

The Modesto and Stockton primary care clinics for veterans could be expanded much sooner. The Palo Alto Health System, which operates VA medical facilities in the Bay Area and valley, has put in a request for nearly 10,000 square-foot expansions of the Modesto clinic at 1524 McHenry Ave. and the clinic in Stockton.

Plans are to expand the clinics in the next 12 months with pharmacy and radiology services, Childress said. The timing of the Modesto expansion depends on the availability of space for lease in the "black glass" building on McHenry.

Nicholson, in announcing one of his final decisions as VA secretary, said the Central Valley nursing home will share a site with an outpatient specialty clinic that was already promised to the valley.

"These veterans will have access to a nursing home that matches the high quality of care they have always received from VA and improved access to outpatient services," said Nicholson, who is scheduled to leave his post Monday.

Veterans continue to move here

Stanislaus County has offered 15 acres for the nursing home and clinic near its public safety center at Service and Crows Landing roads, near the south edge of Modesto. The San Joaquin County site includes 8 acres near San Joaquin Gen-eral Hospital, in French Camp.

Childress said a consultant will be hired late this year or in early 2008 to analyze the two sites and make a recommendation.

She said plans for the health care facilities reinforce the VA's commitment to serving the nearly 90,000 veterans in Stani- slaus, San Joaquin, Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. She said veterans continue to move to the valley and foothills region for the affordable cost of housing.

Modesto resident Ruby Brawley praised Nicholson's decision. She has helped spearhead the effort to put the nursing home and clinic in Modesto. "We have more land," she said. "We have a better place for it."

Veterans groups in Northern California, including some veterans from the valley, had urged the VA to renovate the nursing home at the scenic Livermore campus. Nicholson rejected a reuse plan for a destination resort on the 113-acre campus.

Instead, the VA will seek to develop the vacated Livermore campus for veterans services, such as a continuing care retirement community with assisted living, rehabilitation and other services.

"We are not cutting any services," Childress said. "We are getting two brand-new, multispecialty clinics and a nursing home to replace a nursing home (at Livermore) that is not up to current stan- dards."

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.