The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to open an expanded outpatient clinic in the Tri-Cities.
A specific site hasn’t been selected – in fact, the selection process is in the early stages. But Vista Field in Kennewick is one of the areas that’s drawn interest from potential developers as a possibility.
The new clinic will replace the existing one in the Richland Federal Building, and it’ll add an array of specialties for veterans on top of what’s currently offered locally, from dental to pharmacy.
The VA is looking to locate the new clinic in a roughly 34-plus-square-mile area of west Kennewick and south Richland bounded by interstates 82 and 182, Highway 395 and State Route 240.
The clinic could be a new build, or it could move into an existing facility that fits the VA’s criteria, according to an advertisement from the agency seeking expressions of interest from developers.
That’s where Vista Field comes in. Three developers approached the Port of Kennewick – which owns the former municipal airport that’s now envisioned as a regional town center with a mix of commercial and residential development – about listing Vista Field as the clinic location in their submissions.
Because the port is a public agency, discussion among port commissioners about whether to give the OK to that initial step happened during a public meeting, where details about other sites being eyed by developers wouldn’t necessarily make it into the public sphere in the same way.
A site for the new clinic will be selected by January 2025, said Linda Wondra, public affairs officer for the Walla Walla VA Medical Center, a network that includes the Richland clinic.
The new clinic is planned to open in 2028. The need is clear, Wondra said.
“The Tri-Cities area has more veterans seeking care than other locations within the Walla Walla catchment area, and it is important to bring needed specialty care services to the Tri-Cities area so these veterans can access and receive more VA services closer to home,” she said.
Port of Kennewick staff brought the developer requests to port commissioners at a special meeting in June. The staffers reported that a clinic at Vista Field wouldn’t be consistent with the master plan as approved by the port and the city of Kennewick and may not be consistent with city zoning.
They also noted that it’s unclear if Vista Field meets the VA’s criteria for a suitable site, based on the limited information included in the agency’s advertisement.
But, after lengthy discussion, commissioners agreed to allow the developers to list Vista Field in their submissions. The decision doesn’t bind the port to sell or lease Vista Field property or change its use, but merely leaves open the possibility of a clinic at the site instead of closing the door for good at this point.
“We’re not committing. There are plenty of other exit ramps if it doesn’t work for us. But I say, let’s give the VA the opportunity and go from there,” Commissioner Thomas Moak said during the meeting.
Port staff will continue marketing Vista Field for uses consistent with the master plan.
The port shuttered the former airport in 2013 and began working on its transformation; the 103-acre site is next to the Toyota Center and the Three Rivers Convention Center.
The port has invested $4.9 million in infrastructure for the first 20 acres of development – a phase that’s set to include four parcels for single-family development, seven for live-work development and 10 for mixed-use. At full build-out, Vista Field is planned to include 750,000 square feet for retail, office, service and entertainment uses, 1,100 residential units, and more.
The existing Richland veterans clinic opened in May 2008.
It offers services including primary outpatient care, women's health care, mental health/social work support and homeless veteran housing support.
“We have outgrown (the clinic) and cannot provide the services our veterans need within the existing space. The veterans in the Tri-Cities area can be better served by expanding services in this area to reduce travel time and increase efficiency in providing the world class health care the veterans deserve,” Wondra said in a statement, noting that about 7,400 enrolled veterans in the Tri-Cities area, as well as 2,700 in the Boardman, Oregon, area, will benefit from the new clinic.
An interim expansion of the existing clinic is anticipated by mid-2024 and will add physical therapy and expand behavioral health support.
The new clinic will add several more specialties, including radiology, optometry, dental, audiology, prosthetics, home-based primary care, laboratory and pharmacy services.
The project is estimated to cost $21-plus million.
It’s one of 31 projects nationwide selected for PACT Act funding. The PACT Act – formally the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 – is the largest expansion of veteran health care and benefits in generations, Wondra said.
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