The Fort Howard Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in eastern Baltimore County is expected to reopen in six to eight weeks - rather than six months - after being closed by flooding from Tropical Storm Isabel.
At the urging of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi sent an assessment team to the clinic last week to determine the extent of damage. The team found that repairs could be started right away and the clinic opened sooner than anticipated.
Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs initially estimated the clinic would be closed for six months while renovations were being completed. Work is now expected to begin this week, with repair costs estimated at $215,000.
"I am pleased that Secretary Principi agreed with me that our veterans can't wait six months for health care services at the Fort Howard VA Clinic," Mikulski said. "Our veterans deserve first-rate health care in facilities that are convenient to them. I will make sure that veterans continue to receive quality and timely health care at neighboring clinics while repairs at Fort Howard are under way."
Veterans groups said they appreciate Mikulski's efforts to expedite the repairs. "Senator Mikulski has done a great job for the veterans," said John Gistedt, state adjutant for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Maryland. The group represents 30,000 veterans.
He said the Fort Howard facility needed to be reopened quickly because of the overflow of patients at other clinics.
Mikulski contacted Principi less than a week after the storm when she was informed that flood damage would force the Fort Howard clinic to be closed for up to six months. The senator told Principi that making veterans travel for health care after many lost their homes in the storm was the last thing the VA should do.
Veterans using the Fort Howard clinic were temporarily transferred to VA clinics in Baltimore and Glen Burnie. Staff members and health care providers from Fort Howard also were transferred temporarily to these locations.
VA officials said the Fort Howard clinic had 3 to 5 inches of water throughout the building, both during and after the storm. Most of the equipment, however, was saved when staff members moved it to the tops of desks and cabinets before the storm passed through the region Sept. 18-19.
Fort Howard's clinic sits on the grounds of the old Fort Howard Medical Center, on the North Point Peninsula. The 95-acre site overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and the Patapsco River, whose floodwaters surged over their banks during the storm.
The hospital was closed in September last year after officials declared it outdated and underused. VA officials opened the clinic two weeks later.