A program that put Fort Carson clinics closer to off-post families and retirees will end soon because of an expiring lease.
Fort Carson had long planned to close its 16,000-square-foot clinic at Austin Bluffs Parkway and Union Boulevard, but it wanted to keep open the clinic near Platte Avenue and Powers Boulevard. That clinic’s lease is ending, and the Army couldn’t get an extension.
This means patients will have to seek care on local military installations, with most heading to a clinic at Fort Carson’s Evans Army Community Hospital.
Still, Col. Eric Edwards, who commands Evans, said he sees advantages in caring for patients on-post where security is tighter and more services and equipment are available.
“Our beneficiaries are not losing any kind of capability,” he said Friday, ahead of a town hall to tell patients about the change.
Patients also are getting letters from the post advising them about the move and what they’ll need to do.
Fort Carson opened it first off-post clinic in 2009. The clinics were designed to take pressure off Evans while giving convenience to military retirees and families. All retirees and nearly 80 percent of Army families in Colorado Springs don’t live within Fort Carson’s 135,000 fenced acres.
The two clinics also came with a civilian feel, matching the amenities of the town’s high-end medical practices.
The clinics offered primary care, meeting the day-to day needs for checkups and health issues from high cholesterol to the common cold.
The one at Austin Bluffs and Union was built to serve as many as 8,000 patients, and the clinic off Powers Boulevard was of similar design.
But with the region’s commercial property market booming, the Army was priced out. The Gazette reported in December that commercial office vacancies dropped below 10 percent in the Pikes Peak region, down from a recession-era high of 17 percent.
The clinic closures won’t cut the number of doctors available. They’re moving to military facilities, primarily the Ironhorse Family Medicine Center next to Evans. The Army has spent millions remodeling and enlarging its medical facilities on the post, which has doubled its population of soldiers since 2003.
That means military families might have to drive a few more miles for care, but they can keep the same doctors.
Edwards noted that military families still can find convenient care near their neighborhoods. The city has five military bases, including the Air Force Academy to the north and Peterson Air Force Base to the east, which also accept patients affected by the closures.
The Air Force can step up to help the Army thanks to a 2005 Pentagon move, which consolidated military health services in the Pikes Peak region under a joint management scheme. The region is home to 40,000 active-duty troops and 60,000 dependents.
There’s another option, too. Fort Carson will allow some families to fill out paperwork that will push them over to Tricare, the military’s version of civilian insurance. That will allow them to seek care at civilian clinics.
Edwards said his goal is to make sure families still get high-quality, prompt care. He said getting the full resources available at the post hospital along with regular primary care could be a blessing.
“I’m always an optimist, and I see this as an opportunity,” he said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx