MASSENA A veterans clinic tour, a visit with senior citizens and an excursion into a Stockholm forest were all stops U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, made Thursday in eastern St. Lawrence County.
Mr. Owenss first stop Thursday morning was the Veterans Affairs clinic at Massena Memorial Hospital. The clinic handles primary care, social work, laboratory testing and immunizations, according to hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd II. But for services such as MRIs, CT scans, colonoscopies and endoscopies, patients travel to the VA hospital in Syracuse, a trip officials have said is cumbersome.
Mr. Fahd urged Mr. Owens to support the clinic and a potential expansion. The hospital already offers many of those services, but needs authorization from the VA to extend them to veterans.
The medical office building under construction on Maple Street could house additional services, Mr. Fahd said.
We have the space. We just need to be given permission to utilize it, he said. From a patients standpoint, 10 hours away from home ... to get a test done is a lot.
He said the expansion of services at the clinic was more realistic than a separate effort under way in Ogdensburg to open a hospital at the Pritchard Building in the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. Hospital construction costs $1 million to $1.5 million per bed, he said.
The Massena clinic opened in 1993 and receives approximately 1,000 visits a month, growing by leaps and bounds in 19 years. It is the only such clinic between Plattsburgh and Watertown.
I dont think theres a good possibility of the VA building another hospital, Mr. Fahd said.
It would be ridiculous to try and take an old building and renovate it into something acceptable for the federal government, he said.
All options must be investigated as the region examines broadening veterans services, Mr. Owens said. He said an investigation must commence to determine which option would give veterans the best care quickest. A presentation of facts and strong local support might persuade the VA to provide additional services in the north country, he said. That may turn out to be a new hospital, but it may also be to use the local hospitals, he said. If in fact its easier to have an MRI done in Massena, we should be doing an MRI in Massena.
Later Thursday morning, Mr. Owens visited with seniors at the Seniorama health and information fair at the St. Lawrence Centre Arena.
The seniors are a very important group and our office has had a lot of requests for information about the Medicare conversation thats going on, so I thought it was important to be here and let people know what I think about that, he said.
He then stood alongside Bill LaPoint in the middle of a forest Thursday afternoon.
Mr. LaPoint has owned hundreds of acres of Stockholm forest since 1984, and has used portions of it for firewood and recreation. He even donates Christmas trees to the Boy Scouts from his land each year.
But he and other forest owners met with Mr. Owens because of a common problem: there is more supply than demand in area forests.
Weve got the product but we dont have the market, Mr. LaPoint said. We need to have him help us get the market.
Mr. LaPoint said identifying more markets for his wood could lead to more harvesting, trucking and even manufacturing jobs in the north country. If he doesnt harvest enough of his forest, it will become overgrown, making it more difficult for trees to thrive. An overgrown forest is also a more likely spot for a fire, which he said ravaged his property decades ago.
Mr. Owens said there should be a push for more projects like the renewable energy plant under construction at Fort Drum, and the Tupper Lake Wild Centers renewable energy system, which could increase demand for local timber.
Mr. Owens said he would also lobby for more advocacy of foresting issues in Washington.
There has to be a little more noise or support for renewable energy ideas, he said. You need to have people in Washington talking about it.
Johnson Newspapers writer Benny Fairchild contributed to this report.