Messenger Photo by Mack Thweatt
The prospect of a veterans hospital in Wise County is picking up steam, following area politicians and representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently touring the Wise Health System hospital in Bridgeport.
Dr. Stephen Holt, the Director of VA North Texas Health Care System, participated in the walk through the former Doctor’s Hospital.
Holt, a retired Air Force colonel, oversees the nation’s second largest VA system, which includes hospitals in Dallas, Bonham, Fort Worth, Tyler and Plano, as well as several out-patient facilities.
A potential facility in Wise County, much like the one in Bonham, would serve the rural community and outlying areas, providing a more accessible option for veterans currently tasked with commuting to Dallas or Fort Worth to receive care.
For several years, Robert “Bob” Johnson, USMC-Ret., has led the Wise County Veterans Group in the effort to bring a VA hospital to the County.
Johnson said the momentum toward realizing the vision for a Wise County VA hospital, shared by his group and the Wise County Veterans Services Office, is building.
“After they completed their survey of the hospital, they concluded, the same thing that everyone else that’s seen the facility has, that this is a turn-key operation,” Johnson said. “From the perspective of relieving any thoughts of their mind about the expense to rebuild this hospital, as was the case with the Garland hospital – which was significant. This one here is in fact a turn-key operation.”
According to Johnson, the facility is ready to open and for much less than other area VA projects in the works.
A group of lawmakers estimate it will cost $400 million to transform the vacant, and recently donated Garland Baylor Scott and White hospital into the Garland VA Medical Center, according to an April Dallas Morning News story.
Johnson said Dr. Holt, and a collection of his staff, who toured the facility last weekend, are taking the information from the tour and evaluating a decision. The key barrier will be funding, Johnson said.
Calls to Dr. Holt’s office for comments on the tour and the prospect of expanding to Wise County were not returned before press time.
Wise Health System president Jason Wren has participated in tours with various government officials. Wren said WHS is open to potentially working out a deal for the Bridgeport facility, but those talks have yet to materialize.
“At this point, Wise Health System still has not had direct conversation with the VA about a potential transaction,” Wren said in an email. “However, we remain open to discussing possible arrangements and uses for the Bridgeport facility.”
Johnson wouldn’t go into detail about the cost of purchasing the facility. He said, “the current owners of the property will be pleased by the settlement.”
Current and projected population shifts north and west from the Metroplex have bolstered the case for a VA in the county, Johnson said.
“Since initially doing this years ago with Rep. Mac Thornberry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the shift in population has changed, enormously,” Johnson said. “The hub of the Metroplex population is moving now from what used to be the Dallas area over into Roanoke. Roanoke is the midway between us in Bridgeport and Dallas. The Dallas facility is difficult to get to, it takes a lot of time and getting through traffic.”
Plans discussed for a Wise County VA include purchasing the current facility and constructing an additional building behind the hospital as a center for mental and physical therapy. Johnson also hopes to move the Wise County Veterans museum nearby.
“What we’re offering here is a country atmosphere, easy access, and most importantly, is bringing the healthcare to where the veterans are,” Johnson said. “Currently, the veterans in this area absolutely don’t get the care they want, and they refuse to go to Dallas. It’s not only the long drive, but it’s the traffic once they get there. I believe they’re beginning to understand that now.”
Read the full Wise County Messenger Article.