Winnebago could land veterans site

BLUE EARTH – David Hanson knows the challenges veterans face, so when Humana Government Business began asking about locating a Community Based Outpatient Center in Faribault County, the county Veteran Services officer jumped at the chance.

A CBOC (pronounced see-bock) is a medical facility offering diagnostic testing, treatment capabilities, referral arrangements and mental health services.

“Veterans aren’t getting the care they need,” Hanson noted. “A lot of veterans can’t make it to the [Veterans Administration sites].”

For some, it’s a matter of distance. The closest facility is in Mankato. Others veterans don’t like to drive in big-city traffic. For some, it’s a question of being able to afford the gas.

Getting treatment for mental health issues is a problem unto itself, according to Hanson. These facilities are even farther away and veterans, like most people, are reluctant to ask for help.

“It’d be nice to have quick access to mental health,” Hanson said. “These are people who live amongst us.”

Humana posted a solicitation on its website on May 14, seeking proposals for a new CBOC in southern Minnesota, specifically in Faribault, Freeborn, Mower or Waseca counties.

The new site must be at least 30 minutes away from the three primary sites in Minneapolis, Rochester and Mankato.

Hanson enlisted the help of Linsey Warmka, director of Faribault County Development Corporation, and they brainstormed what the best location might be.

“Being an old highway engineer, I thought we’d need access,” said Hanson, so he suggested the Patriot Assisted Living center in Winnebago.

“A lot of people are attracted to the I-90 corridor,” he said, adding that Interstate 90 runs from coast to coast, while Highway 169 is also a major highway, running from Tulsa, Okla., to Virginia, Minn. “To me, that was a big deal.”

The Patriot center has its advantages too.

“It used to be a hospital, with wide hallways, wide doors and all the amenities; ready to go,” Hanson said.

Officials from Humana came to check it out.

“The guys were excited; they could rehab it,” Hanson said.

Humana needs a building it can adapt quickly.

“They want an existing building because of the 120-day startup period,” Hanson said. “They have to be up and running, doctors and everything.”

If the Winnebago site is chosen, the doors could open around Feb. 1, Hanson said.

Humana wants a 9,000-square foot building capable of handling at least 2,300 veteran enrollees, Hanson said. He estimates that a 30-mile radius around Faribault County would encompass five Minnesota counties and three in Iowa. According to the VA’s numbers, there are about 3,000 veterans who could potentially utilize the new facility.

Hanson does not know how many competing locations there might be, but he knows what it will mean to Faribault County to get the facility.

“They’ll be bringing in doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners. It would create jobs in the community. Bring people into the county,” he said.

“We have the backing of the city of Winnebago; the [county] commissioners have written a letter of support,” he said.

He asked that everyone who would like to see Faribault County get a CBOC “contact our legislators and say we want it here,” Hanson said.

“I hope we have one; I pray we do,” he said.