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Salem VA Clinic Will Close Its Doors Just Three Years After Expanding Service

The VA Clinic in Salem was located in this medical building.
The Veterans Administration
The VA Clinic in Salem was located in this medical building.

The Veterans Administration Health Clinic in Salem, which has been closed since March because of the coronavirus, will not reopen.

Interim Medical Director Paul Hopkins said the facility never reached the goal of 600 patients necessary to make the clinic viable. Despite the fact that more than 1,000 veterans live in Dent County, the patient count maxed out at about 300.

But U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said he didn't hear about a minimum requirement until it was too late.

“I was never told that there was a set number of people that was necessary, or that they had a goal of patients,” Smith said. “On the same call they told me they were closing, they gave me that statistic and information.”

In 2017, Smith was part of a petition drive that collected 5,700 signatures asking the VA to expand operations at the Salem clinic to five days a week. The VA agreed but only had a primary care physician present on Thursdays and Fridays.

Smith said that was an example of mistakes by the VA that made it difficult for the clinic to attract patients.

“I think it also would have been very helpful if they would have had a full-time doctor, five days a week, seeing patients,” Smith said. “There are so many things they could have done differently to allow it to be successful.”

In 2019, the federal Mission Act, supported by President Donald Trump and Smith, allowed veterans to go to private doctors for some services. It was an attempt to increase access to health care and reduce long waits some veterans faced.

That act might have reduced the number of veterans going to the Salem VA clinic, but it also will give them options now that the clinic is closed. Salem Memorial District Hospital is a Mission Act provider and is accepting veterans as new patients.

Otherwise, the closest VA clinic to Salem is in St. James, about 35 miles away, but to get many specialty care services, patients must travel to the Columbia VA, 120 miles from Salem.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.