Ever since the owners of Northside Hospital announced they were closing on Thursday, there’s been talk of what to do with the building.
One idea is to relocate the Youngstown Veterans Administration (VA) clinic on Belmont Avenue, which is now on a month-to-month lease until a new site is found.
“Do I believe in my mind, in my heart that the clinic should go there? No, I’m dead against that. I want that new building that was promised to me,” said Leo Connelly, a veteran.
That promise came from President Donald Trump last year when he visited the Valley. Ever since then, Connelly and fellow-veteran Carl Nunziato have been working with the current owner of the clinic on a new facility to be built behind the existing one.
“The owner of that hospital now has committed $7 million to build a new clinic there,” Nunziato said.
Their plan was submitted last August after the VA asked for what’s called an “Expression of Interest.”
“There’s a lot of competition for this, the future home of the Youngstown VA clinic,” said the VA’s Jose Salcedo.
Salcedo says the next step will be to request formal proposals from would-be developers.
“After that timeline, we will convene a technical evaluation board. We will review those proposals and determine what’s the best value for the government,” Salcedo said.
Historically, the VA prefers leasing its facilities rather than owning them and then having to pay for maintenance. Local veterans believe using Northside would mean a repeat of what’s been experienced at Oakhill Renaissance Place, which had also been a hospital.
“Everybody loved that they bought it for $75,000, but now that they have $18 million in it — don’t have it 50 percent renovated — they’re having second thoughts about this building. That’s what I don’t want to see happen with Northside,” Connelly said.
“It’s an old building full of asbestos. It doesn’t fit the mold of what the VA wants — they want a one-floor plan,” Nunziato said.
But that’s not to say these veterans don’t see any use for Northside.
“We may have the golden ticket if you will,” said Brian Kennedy, a veteran.
The group believes there are still a number of potential uses for the hospital, from a prosthetics lab to mental health and drug counseling services, even nursing home facilities for veterans, depending on the needs of the VA.
“We just have to look at what’s the greatest need across the Department of Veterans Affairs, ask that right question,” Kennedy said.
The veterans believe any use of Northside by the VA will be far down the road. A new clinic could be built and open in the next two or three years.