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The Unleashed by Petco store near Ballston is closing this month.

The smaller-format chain pet store — which also offered pet vaccinations, dog training and a self-serve washing station — has been in business at 3902 Wilson Blvd for just over 10 years.

It plans to close on Saturday, Jan. 20, and is offering discounts of 10-60% as part of a store closing sale.

ARLnow reported on a “for lease” sign outside of the single-story, 4,666 square foot commercial building early last year.

Unleashed opened in the space in September 2013, replacing the quirky, homegrown burger-and-hot-dog restaurant Wiinky’s.

A leasing flyer noted that the building was last renovated in 2013, when Petco moved in, and that it has 19 parking spaces.

The last remaining Unleashed store in Arlington is located at 5400 Langston Blvd. It opened in 2011. A previous Pentagon City location closed in 2021.

While store employees were not sure what would be replacing Petco, permits filed in September show that it will be an Inova-GoHealth Urgent Care clinic. Planned interior construction work to the circa-1925 building includes new rooms, walls, ceiling soffits, restrooms, lighting and relocated stairs.

An Inova spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment by publication time. The healthcare system is in the midst of a major expansion that will see new hospitals in Springfield and Alexandria, as well as a sizable healthcare facility near Potomac Yard.

Jo DeVoe contributed to this report

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Arlington County Dept. of Human Services headquarters at Sequoia Plaza (staff photo)

Arlington County is slated to accept a $95,000 grant to place two older adults with serious mental illnesses in community-based treatment once they leave state psychiatric hospitals.

The money will pay for housing costs, medications, transportation, or other associated costs as part of their treatment plans.

Their discharge, treatment and funding plans are approved by Arlington’s Community Services Board. These county-appointed community members oversee how the county Dept. of Human Services provides services to people with mental health challenges, developmental disabilities and substance use disorder.

The one-time grant funds come from the Virginia Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. Not having this grant would mean longer wait times for these two individuals set to leave a state hospital, says DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick.

“If we did not have this funding available right now, they would need to wait until a slot in the [Regional Older Adults Facility Mental Health Support Team (RAFT) program] became available or clinical staff identified another option,” Larrick said.

RAFT is a grant-funded program that discharges older adults from psychiatric hospitals to long-term care and, where possible, diverts them from hospitals in the first place. Arlington County DHS manages it for Northern Virginia, says Larrick, and partners with assisted living and nursing home facilities throughout the region.

The 10-person team works to provide community treatment options to people ages 65 and older who have a diagnosis of serious mental illness or dementia and who either have been hospitalized in a psychiatric facility or are at risk of hospitalization.

It served 106 clients last fiscal year, up from 73 the year prior, a 45% increase attributed to the launch of a dementia program in January 2023. Through this program, the team helps ensure people with dementia can live at home or with a caregiver by providing specialized dementia training to caregivers.

The team also provides on-call support to assisted living and nursing home facilities to prevent psychiatric hospitalizations or oversee discharge when a client is hospitalized.

RAFT has a 90% satisfaction rate among clients and partnering organizations, according to a recent survey, in which several people shared their gratitude for the program and its staff.

Each year, RAFT receives $500,000 from DBHDS. While the program faces budget pressures, due to factors such as inflation, Larrick says running the program remains tenable.

Individuals who receive treatment through RAFT are asked to contribute what they can to their care, he said. To keep costs down, the program also leverages community partnerships and other resources for older adults.

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AEA members protest the Kaiser contract termination during the Thursday, Oct. 12 School Board meeting (staff photo by James Jarvis)

Threads from the decision to change insurance providers for Arlington Public Schools staff continue to unravel.

When APS entered a new contract with CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield this year, ending a 36-year relationship with Kaiser Permanente this September, it drew the ire of teachers, retired and active.

Stressed by having to find new providers mid-year, some criticized APS leadership for being opaque and disrespectful. APS apologized to staff for how it went about providing this information.

The most recent revelation is that APS says it has no record of a formal contract with Kaiser Permanente, with whom it instead had yearly extension agreements.

The healthcare provider, however, says it was under the impression it had a continuously operating contract since 1986 but ultimately conceded to APS that it “dropped the ball,” according to correspondence between the school system and the company, provided to ARLnow.

“The traditional way of entering into an agreement for the services provided by Kaiser would be for the two parties to sign an agreement,” a school system spokesman said. “However, there is no record of this happening. Instead, the services were renewed annually through a renewal rate sheet provided by Kaiser.”

Kaiser does not see it that way, though. The provider says it has operated “under a sole source contract” continuously since 1986 and that this contract was amended in 2022 to include three one-year extensions, according to a September letter from Kaiser to APS, provided to ARLnow. The letter requests APS reverse course on its decision.

APS submitted Requests for Proposals in December and again in January because its annual extension with Kaiser was coming to a close, as was a concurrent agreement with Cigna. It initially sought one provider but rewrote the RFP to allow for two contracts and extend the deadline.

APS ultimately awarded the deal to CareFirst and did not receive a bid from Kaiser. Citing procurement rules, it maintains it could not reach out to Kaiser directly for a bid during this time.

APS also disputes Kaiser’s characterization that the agreement was a “sole source contract,” or, one that is issued outside a competitive bidding process because only one company is able to provide the requested services.

The argument that Kaiser could enjoy this privilege is that, unlike traditional health insurers, it provides the bulk of the healthcare services itself. APS, however, says “it would be impossible” to recommend a sole source contract with Kaiser because there is competition, as evinced by the several proposals it received.

In its plea to APS to reverse course, Kaiser points out the school system did not mention a forthcoming termination when it confirmed services would extend through 2023. This confirmation letter, provided to ARLnow, is sparse, informing Kaiser of the renewal through Dec. 31, 2023 and noting “all other terms and conditions shall remain unchanged,” with no mention of available extensions.

In response, APS told the company it has no record of a two-way agreement and that it cannot reverse course.

“APS is not able to show that a two-way agreement was issued between APS and Kaiser for the Services,” the letter said. “In an attempt to provide a more formal structure to the renewal process, a two-party amendment was introduced in 2023… There is no mention of it being a second extension.”

In a follow-up email, the provider noted its team “dropped the ball” and requested further conversations to understand what went wrong.

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Amazon’s One Medical recently opened a new healthcare clinic in Rosslyn, offering more than just the usual medical services.

Like a regular primary care doctor’s office, patients can seek treatment for a range of medical issues, from common illnesses to routine health check-ups.

The membership-based service offers other benefits such as 24/7 virtual care, same-day appointments and minimal wait times, for an annual fee of $199. Last week Amazon announced that Prime members could get One Medical membership for $9/mo or $99/year.

Located at 1771 N. Pierce Street, at the base of the Cortland Apartments and a stone’s throw from the upscale market and café Foxtrot, this clinic marks One Medical’s first foray into Arlington.

It joins similar full-service clinics in the area, including in Tysons and the Mosaic District.

Amazon, which completed the first phase of its second headquarters in Pentagon City this summer, acquired One Medical in February.

This was a significant shift for the company, which unsuccessfully tried to start its own telemedicine and primary care provider.

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A woman looks at X-rays of her teeth in a dentist’s office (via Caroline LM/Unsplash)

It’s the ARLnow Five and Five, where nonprofit Washington Consumers’ Checkbook provides five top-rated local businesses and five tips for getting great service and prices. ARLnow readers can access all of Checkbook’s ratings of local dentists until Dec. 5 at Checkbook.org/ARLnow/dentists.

These dental practices are best bets for Arlingtonians.

They all received Washington Consumers’ Checkbook’s top rating for quality and price, meaning they deliver great service (as reported by their customers in Checkbook’s surveys) and charge reasonable fees, per undercover price shopping conducted by Checkbook’s research team.

Gruntz, Richard D.
1600 Crystal Square Arcade #L
Arlington, VA 22202
703-412-1122

Lobo, Mignonette
2946 Sleepy Hollow Rd #2-G
Falls Church, VA 22044
703-536-4900

McIntire, Michael K.
1515 Wilson Blvd #103
Arlington, VA 22209
703-524-0221

Ozturk, Serdar Cavit
2522 Langston Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
703-243-1166

Roca, Adam J.
3138 10th Street N. #301
Arlington, VA 22201
703-522-2600

Checkbook’s Top Five Tips for Getting Great Dental Care

  • Keep in mind that you don’t have to forsake quality to use a dentist who charges low fees. Checkbook found many dentists who receive high ratings for patient care also charge below-average fees.
  • Be sure your dentist fully describes the condition of your mouth and any corrections needed. It’s good practice for the dentist to provide a written treatment plan (though there may be a fee). If the proposed treatment is extensive, consider getting a second opinion from a specialist.
  • If a dentist recommends a treatment, always ask for alternatives. The dentist should be willing to describe the pros and cons of all of them, so you can make your decision based on cost, discomfort, and inconvenience.
  • Be aware that because various treatments require more or less of the dentist’s time — and therefore higher or lower charges — the advice may be colored by self-interest. Be suspicious if a new dentist recommends far more treatment than your previous one did.
  • Check your health plan for dental benefits, especially for dependents younger than 19; the Affordable Care Act mandates pediatric dental coverage on individual and small-group medical plans. Some Medicare Advantage plans include dental coverage, and many “consumer-driven” and “high-deductible” health plans let you set aside funds for dental work.

Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate.

Photo via Caroline LM/Unsplash

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) VHC Health, formerly Virginia Hospital Center, debuted a new women’s health center Monday afternoon that handles everything from pregnancy to menopause to breast health.

The Charlotte S. Benjamin Center for Women’s Health is located on the fifth floor of the hospital’s new, $250 million outpatient pavilion that opened in the Hall’s Hill neighborhood in June.

It is the last section of the pavilion — which has floors for outpatient surgery, endoscopies, physical therapy and imaging services, as well as a pharmacy — to open. The 26,000-square-foot center began seeing patients Tuesday.

There, women can receive care related to obstetrics and gynecology, maternal-fetal medicine, general health and wellness through menopause, genetics, breast health, urology, cardiology, advanced radiologic imaging and vascular diagnostics.

The center is named for Charlotte Benjamin, an Arlingtonian who was active on the VHC Health Board of Directors for decades and served as its chair. She attended the ribbon-cutting on Monday.

A female-led physician team, including Women’s Health Center Chief Dr. Kelly Orzechowski, helped design the center and its continuum of services. She tells ARLnow that having an all-in-one center is intended to help busy women streamline their visits and make the most of their appointments.

“I think one of the challenges we have as women is that we’re caring for other people in our lives — our children, our spouses or our elderly parents,” Orzechowski said. “If you have a busy schedule, you put others’ needs before your own. If you have to go around to different places [for appointments], you’re less likely to do them or do them on time.”

For instance, women might make their annual physical but never get around to the mammogram their physician ordered because this involves going to a different facility, farther from home and with more limited hours, she said.

“Our goal was to streamline and coordinate appointment times so if someone has to take off work, our goal is to get all those services done in one half-day,” Orzechowski says.

That extends beyond the women’s health floor, too, she noted. If patients need radiology, cardiology or rehab services, they are an elevator ride away, rather than in a different facility elsewhere in the region. Orzechowski says she believes having these services in one place boosts in-person camaraderie among providers and will “deliver superior care to patients.”

That doctors, particularly women doctors, had any input on the design of the center is a novelty, says Sharon Brickhouse Martin, who consulted on several hospital facilities projects before becoming the Vice President of Health Services Integration for VHC Health. She said the “old school” way of doing things relegated healthcare to doctors and design to specialized professionals.

“It is rare for a hospital organization to involve their doctors in the design and layout of workflow when a new building is under construction,” she said.

Doctors — “the people doing the work” — were at the forefront of designing the women’s health center, down to each exam room, Martin said.

“It has made a huge difference: not only do we feel we delivered a better project, but I’m proud to say we did it in record time. From concept to move-in, in 12-13 months, is unheard of,” she said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza

When Richard Gurley surveyed the healthcare field for people with diabetes, he noticed several flaws.

Whether they saw primary care physicians and specialists or used virtual platforms, diabetics often lacked support between visits, particularly for nutritional education and behavioral health.

Insurance, meanwhile, rewarded offices for less-effective care.

“The traditional way of treating type 2 diabetes in this country is just not working for the majority of people living with it,” Gurley said in a recent press release, announcing a new partnership with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

He founded Ryse Health in 2020 to change that.

“We started with a blank slate and designed what we believe is the most efficient, effective model for serving people living with type 2 diabetes, helping them manage their care in a way that’s tailored to them,” his statement continued.

Ryse Health pairs patients with an endocrinologist, a diabetes care specialist, a health coach and a behavioral health specialist. Via chat, email, video and in-person visits, they provide regular support, tips for managing diabetes and coaching, while connecting patients with diabetic peers.

These encounters make for efficient and effective visits, and result in fewer visits over time as patients get healthier, according to the company. Ryse also hires additional staff when demand surges, so that patients wait a maximum of two weeks for an appointment. It takes most major insurance.

The company opened its doors in the summer of 2021 and today employs 18 team members and serves more than 500 patients across its offices in Arlington and Baltimore, he tells ARLnow.

Half of Ryse’s 18-person team reports to the Arlington office, but only for half the week, as most of the care it provides is virtual. Providers work from home two days a week.

Ryse Health CEO Richard Gurley speaks at an event hosted by the incubation program run by the investment arm of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (courtesy photo)

Gurley says his company aims to combine the best of primary care, specialty and virtual-only providers, while avoiding their shortcomings.

“Though there are some amazing examples of care in all three of these categories, by and large, they don’t serve people living with chronic disease well,” he said.

He credited primary-care practices for providing support between office visits but said they tend to pass off people with more complex medications or support needs to endocrinologists.

While endocrinologists handle these patients and offer diet education, they rarely provide the between-visit support or address psychological barriers, he said.

Both options have scheduling issues, Gurley says, noting patients wait an average of four months to see an endocrinologist and they see their provider every three to six months. That makes virtual, app-based options attractive but insurance largely does not cover them.

He attributed poor patient outcomes to these issues securing appointments and receiving effective support as well as the “perverse incentives” insurance creates.

For instance, companies will pay offices and hospitals the same for effective visits and those where little progress is made. Also, providers may not offer critical support to patients, such as identifying barriers to getting lab work done and devising a plan to overcome them.

“Most practices don’t have a way to get paid for that work, so they don’t do it,” he said.

As part of the new partnership — a first for Ryse — CareFirst will pair D.C.-area members who have uncontrolled type 2 diabetes with Ryse providers. They will provide in-person and virtual visits through which patients will come to control their hemoglobin and blood pressure levels.

Ryse and CareFirst began conversations in 2021. In 2022, Ryse joined its incubation program run by the investment arm of CareFirst.

“We’re grateful that CareFirst has chosen to partner with us on our shared mission, and we’re excited to see the partnership grow in the coming years,” Gurley said.

He foreshadowed more partnerships and announcements in the next six months as well as expansion plans within and beyond the mid-Atlantic.

The company already has investor interest and has raised $10 million in the last 18 months.

Gurley says the money is being invested in “our team and technology, continuing to refine our model to be the most effective, efficient model for improving cardiometabolic health.”

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Over the course of an hour last night, Arlington Public Schools teachers excoriated the School Board and central administration for how they are handling what some call a healthcare catastrophe.

On Dec. 31, APS staff will lose the healthcare they receive from Kaiser Permanente and Cigna through APS, to be replaced in January by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

Many current and retired staff say this change will upend the Kaiser healthcare teams they have built for themselves and their families over several years and in some cases, decades.

APS says it solicited bids from healthcare vendors and received four proposals, including CareFirst, the vendor it ultimately selected — but not Kaiser.

The school system first announced the change on Sept. 20 and the response was swift. Teachers spoke up at the subsequent September School Board meeting and ARLnow received at least a dozen emails from staff who were upset and confused by the change.

These feelings reached a boiling point on Thursday despite efforts from APS to smooth things over. APS held a “resource fair” with CareFirst representatives and Human Resources staff to help understand their benefits and enroll but according to the teachers union, the Arlington Education Association, this did not ease the anxiety of the nearly 400 people who showed up — some of whom were turned away.

“This disrespectful treatment of staff, lack of response and inappropriate responses from HR and lack of transparency on issues that not only affect staff but students and families, is disheartening,” says teacher Tricia Zipfel.

When teacher Marnie Lewis took the microphone at the School Board meeting, she began crying but eventually rallied to encouragement from colleagues in attendance.

“This [change] really took me to my knees,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m here. I’m here because this is how upset I am. I used to love working here, I was proud to work here and I’m not feeling that anymore… I would just like it if someone could answer my emails and questions. That would be great.”

Teacher Heidi Haretos, who recently moved from North Carolina to Arlington, asked central office and the School Board: “If your wife, daughter, husband or son had a serious health condition, and had a trusted medical team supporting them through Kaiser, would you have made this decision?”
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VHC Health celebrated the completion of its new outpatient pavilion yesterday afternoon.

The ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday marked the opening of the $250 million, 250,000-square foot facility at 1851 N. Edison Street in the Hall’s Hill/High View Park neighborhood.

There, VHC Health — formerly Virginia Hospital Center — will provide outpatient surgery, endoscopy, physical therapy, women’s health and imaging, per a press release. There will also be a pharmacy.

Christopher Lane, the hospital’s president and CEO, said during the ceremony that providing these various services makes it easier to coordinate patient care.

“By bringing outpatient services together under one roof, patients can now be conveniently scheduled for diverse healthcare services and can be seen within the same facility, often on the same day,” Lane said.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow the ease of getting care will greatly benefit residents.

“This facility will expand the ability for people who need services that don’t require staying in the hospital and getting the most expensive form of care, being emergency services, to get what they need here in Arlington,” Dorsey said. “The pavilion will reduce patient frustration, reduce errors and be a huge benefit to our community.”

State Sen. Barbara Favola applauded VHC Health’s effort to reduce emergency visits for Virginians.

“VHC Health has embraced this mission,” she said during the ceremony. “Our outpatient facility will in fact divert individuals from going into emergency care.”

Discussions of a new pavilion began in 2017 and VHC Health proposed an expansion in 2018. The County Board initially voted to delay approving the project so that the hospital could address the concerns of homeowners who live around the hospital.

The Board narrowly approved the plans two months later and the facility broke ground in the fourth quarter of 2019. Work became a source of consternation for nearby residents, who dealt with about a year of poor water quality tied to construction activity.

The hospital already has plans for a future expansion. Next up could be a mental health and rehabilitation facility on the site of its old urgent care facility, intended to address the strain on private hospital emergency rooms to receive psychiatric patients as well as troubling trends in substance use and mental health among teens.

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MedStar is looking to open its first urgent care facility in Arlington at the base of a building in Ballston owned by Marymount University.

The Maryland-based healthcare nonprofit proposes locating the facility in a retail bay near the corner of N. Fairfax Drive and N. Wakefield Street, per an application filed with Arlington County.

In addition to being its first Arlington location, this facility at 1000 N. Glebe Road would be the second MedStar urgent care facility in Virginia, according to Matthew Roberts, a land-use attorney for the hospital.

Along N. Fairfax Drive, MedStar proposes to build a separate lobby entrance for patients and guests, a manager’s office and at least six exam rooms.

“MedStar intends to develop this space with its signature MedStar Health Urgent Care facility,” Roberts wrote. “MedStar will provide illness and injury treatment, as well as preventative care services, at the facility. In addition to use by the adjacent neighborhoods, MedStar anticipates that its facility will (complement) Marymount University’s operations and will be used by its students.”

The facility will be open to the public, including walk-in patients, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days per week, he said.

It is asking Arlington County for permission to increase the opacity of the windows into the exam rooms so it can protect patient privacy.

“Patient privacy is of great concern to MedStar,” Roberts said. “In addition to exam tables and related furniture, MedStar will install blinds or other window treatments to ensure patient privacy is maintained during examinations.”

The manager’s office and lobby will meet the transparency requirements for retail in Ballston, per the application. Roberts emphasizes that the transparency is not expected to dull activity along the street front.

“MedStar anticipates its urgent care facility will generate foot traffic to the space from students and walk-in patients, and it will maintain a separate lobby entrance to its facility,” he said. “This will serve to generate needed ground floor activation at the Property and in this area of Ballston more generally.”

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Candidates for Arlington County Sheriff during a recent forum hosted by Offender Aid and Restoration (via Offender Aid and Restoration/Facebook)

All three candidates looking to replace Sheriff Beth Arthur, who retired at the end of last year, say they want to end solitary confinement.

This unifying policy position surfaced during a forum hosted by the nonprofit Offender Aid and Restoration last Thursday.

Arlington County police officer James Herring, retired sheriff lieutenant Wanda Younger and Acting Sheriff Jose Quiroz are seeking the nomination of the Arlington County Democratic Committee in the June primary.

Although unified on running a “safe and progressive” jail, including by ending solitary confinement, they had different plans for improving the physical safety and mental well-being of staff and inmates.

“We’re definitely going to remove [solitary confinement],” said Quiroz, the son of Honduran immigrants who grew up in Arlington and joined the Sheriff’s Office 21 years ago after a stint in the Marine Corps. “We’re already reviewing this. It’s not helpful, it’s not healthy and it’s not rehabilitative. It needs to go.”

Herring, a graduate of Arlington Public Schools who was a police officer in D.C.’s Ward 8 before joining the Arlington County Police Department in 2019, said there are better alternatives to the practice.

“There are going to be people who will have to be separated from others because they just will not work well for whatever reason — they might have to be separated for safety reasons — but we absolutely cannot put people in holes and forget about them,” he said. “We need to connect them to mental and medical health care and keep them connected with family.”

Younger, who retired from the Sheriff’s Office after 31 years of service, said solitary confinement exacerbates mental health issues rather than contributing to an individual’s rehabilitation.

“What we need to do is focus on programs to help identify the root causes of why people act in certain ways,” she said, calling for training in trauma-informed care and in understanding common triggers of negative behaviors.

They articulated positions ARLnow previously reported on, regarding well-being in the jail, which saw seven men die while in jail. Six of the inmates were Black, which led the Arlington branch of the NAACP to push for greater transparency from the office and changes to jail operations.

Quiroz says he is bringing in biometric sensors that allow staff to respond to medical emergencies “where seconds and minutes count” and interested in the county assuming control of medical care.

ACSO ditched its former contracted medical care provider in response to a growing number of deaths in the jail, and one inmate has died since the new provider took over.

Herring argued for adding in-house psychiatrists to the existing ranks of therapists and clinicians.

“We still have to ship people across the state to actually see a psychiatrist who does not know them, their community, where they’re from or what their issue is,” he said. “Oftentimes they just load them up with meds and send them back here until they’re tranquilized enough… to carry on, and the cycle repeats.”

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