• 81°

Local residents spearhead VA hospital movement

ORANGE — A causal coffee break between co-workers inspired a petition to convert Baptist Hospital in Orange to a VA Inpatient Hospital.

Billy Chiappi Jr. and Shronda Phillips-Amerson were concerned when they heard the news Baptist Hopsital Orange planned to stop in-patient care and during a coffee break became inspired to bring a VA Inpatient facility to Orange.

Chiappi, 52, of Bridge City, served in the United State Army from1980-1992. During 1983-1988, he served in the Reserves.

“I had to go to the VA Hospital in Houston,” Chiappi said. “I made a comment that I wished we had a VA hospital here.”

Chiappi and Phillips-Amerson decided why not here.

Phillips-Amerson, 31, of Orange said her father is a veteran as well.

“We were thinking of the community,” Phillips-Amerson said. “I told Billy I would start the petition.”

The two started distributing the petition on March 13, 2015.

“We would call people and no one knew about it,” Phillips-Amerson said. “I spoke with Babin’s office and he did not know about it.”

Congressman Brian Babin has since become involved in the process of bringing a VA medical facility to Orange County.

“With over 6,000 veterans living in Orange County, there is a lack of access to medical care for local veterans, particularly for inpatient care,” Babin said. “Traveling to the nearest inpatient veterans medical facility in either Houston or Baton Rouge can be very challenging for local veterans. “

Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton said the county formed a committee concerning the hospital on January 7, 2015.

“I first heard about the idea of utilizing the hospital as a VA facility from citizens,” Carlton said. “The resolution the county passed talks about bringing a facility here. I would be happy if the VA comes here. It does not have to be at Baptist Hospital.”

Carlton also said the committee, as a group, has not approached the hospital at this time.

“We want a VA facility, not specifically at Baptist,” Carlton said. “With 6,000 veterans in Orange County and 30,000 in surrounding areas, there is definitely a need.”

The key members of the committee are the county judge, the mayor of Orange, Orange city manager, Stark Foundation and a local doctor, according to Carlton.

“A very large group has been involved,” Carlton said. “We met with several people and stakeholders.”

Carlton said it is a long process to bring the facility to the area.

Orange City Manager Dr. Shawn Oubre said the Orange City Council has allowed him to work on the project for consideration.

Oubre also said a timeline for the project was not available at this time.

Meanwhile, Billy Chiappi Jr., left, and Shronda Phillips-Amerson continue to collect signatures of support, which is now in excess of 2,500.

“Make no mistake, this is an uphill battle, but it is one worth fighting for our veterans,” Babin said. “I’m committed to working with our local leaders and doing all that I can to support their efforts.”