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VA clinic closes at Fort Howard

The Department of Veterans Affairs has closed its medical clinic at Fort Howard in eastern Baltimore County, a property that is proposed for redevelopment.

The clinic closed last month after it was flooded when a hot water heater exploded. As workers assessed the damage, they found mold and other structural issues that prompted the closure, said R. David Edwards, a spokesman for the VA Maryland Health Care System.

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Patients and their doctors have been transferred temporarily to a clinic in Baltimore's Loch Raven neighborhood, while the VA searches for another eastern Baltimore County property to lease and replace the Fort Howard site, Edwards said.

There's no timetable for opening the new clinic, he said.

The VA outpatient clinic was the only building still in operation at Fort Howard, a vast waterfront campus on the North Point peninsula that's slated for redevelopment. The clinic offered primary care and such specialty services as arthritis care, dermatology, podiatry and women's health.

The property was previously home to a VA inpatient hospital that opened in the 1940s and closed in 2002. The outpatient clinic opened when the hospital closed, in a building that previously housed a mental health clinic. Before the VA took over Fort Howard, it had been an Army installation since the 1890s.

The VA has leased the property to two successive developers who have failed to get their redevelopment projects off the ground. The current developer, Timothy Munshell, proposed the Landing at Fort Howard, with 1,375 senior housing and nursing home units, a hotel, retail shops and offices.

That redevelopment plan proposed including a new VA outpatient clinic.

But Edwards said it no longer makes sense to have a clinic at Fort Howard, which is located in an out-of-the-way area without public transportation.

About 2,700 patients used the clinic last year, down from more than 7,200 in 2008, he said. The clinic also was prone to flooding from the Patapsco River, and suffered damage during Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003, Edwards said.

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"We actually think it's in the best interest of our patients to lease something newer and that's more centrally located," he said. "That will unencumber the developer, so that they can move forward with the VA leasing office without the demand for a clinic."

Munshell has not received necessary county zoning approvals for his project and has been cited by the county for not taking proper steps to prevent repeated fires at the property. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The Fort Howard property's zoning is being considered as part of Baltimore County's quadrennial zoning review process.

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