VA outpatient clinic to come to Albert Lea

Published 3:32 pm Friday, November 8, 2013

U.S. House Rep. Tim Walz on Friday announced Albert Lea has been selected as the site for a new Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic.

The clinic, which will be in the former JoAnn Fabrics at the Skyline Plaza, is expected to open by mid-2014.

“Today has been a long time coming,” Walz said. “I could not be more pleased with this announcement.”

Email newsletter signup

The decision comes about five years after officials in Washington, D.C., announced plans for a clinic in south-central Minnesota. Other communities that expressed interest were Owatonna, Austin and Faribault.

Walz, a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard and the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, thanked the VA for its data-driven decision to put the clinic in southern Minnesota and said he thinks it will ensure that local veterans have access to the health care they deserve.

Community-based outpatient clinics offer primary health care services and mental health counseling, sometimes through video teleconferencing. The clinics do not provide urgent care or emergency care.

The Albert Lea clinic will be operated by Valor Healthcare Inc. of Louisville, Kent.

A news release stated Valor Healthcare was awarded a $28.2 million, five-year contract to operate both the Albert Lea clinic and a second clinic in Shakopee.

Ralph Heussner, VA public affairs officer, said the clinic is expected to serve between 2,000 and 3,000 veterans in its first year of operations and this is expected to grow in subsequent years.

“This is a major development,” Heussner said.

He noted several factors were considered when making the decision, including economics, medical need and the demographics of veterans. The next closest clinics are in Mankato, Rochester and Mason City.

Freeborn County Veterans Services Officer Ron Reule said the clinic will be helpful to veterans in both southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

“I thinks it’s wonderful,” Reule said. “It’s a good thing for all veterans in the area.”

Curtis Smith, owner of the Skyline Plaza, said the clinic will occupy about 11,000 square feet of space and will be accessed tentatively through a south entrance.

“It’s very exciting for everyone in Albert Lea, Freeborn County, and all veterans in at least a 100-mile radius,” Smith said.

He said having the clinic at Skyline Plaza will be a “huge boost for the southwest side of town” and said he thinks it will cause a “snowball effect” for Albert Lea.

He anticipated it may help bring a restaurant to that side of town and maybe even bring in a business to the former Walmart space.

He said officials looked at many aspects of the community, including job potential, quality of employees to hire in the area, the downtown and even the restaurants in town. Another factor was the easy access to U.S. Highway 69 going into Iowa and the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 90.

“It’s a proud day for all of us,” Smith said. “Everyone should take pride. They interviewed the whole community, if you will.”

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen said he hopes community members will show hospitality to the veterans who will be coming into town.

“Right now it’s up to the community to get behind and support and welcome these veterans to our community,” Rasmussen said.

Heussner said a celebration will be planned for when the clinic opens.