MASSILLON — City officials and U.S. Veterans Health Administration representatives went through the former Affinity Medical Center this past week, marking one of multiple times both groups have met at the closed hospital.

The city is making its best pitch to attract an occupant to fill the vacant facility on Eighth Street NE, and the VA appears to be a potential partner.

"Any way to secure the VA coming here, we're for it," said Mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry, adding that a work group from the organization took another look on Friday afternoon.

David Maley, the city's economic development director, said the hospital tour lasted about two hours. He called the VA's interest "very high."

"At this point, all the boxes are coming across checked. But there's still a ways to go," he said.

The city has been in talks for a couple of months with the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System about opening a new medical facility in the former hospital. Word on Affinity's availability reached the VA late last year when the city was still shopping for a new operator, the mayor said.

Affinity has been closed since February 2018. The city took over the buildings, land and other related hospital properties last spring for $1, hoping to find a new facility operator. The building has remained unoccupied since the closure.

The VA is looking into opening an outpatient clinic at the Affinity campus, or one that could provide daily medical checkups and treatments, Catazaro-Perry said. Medical services such as telemedicine, imaging, lab and blood work would likely be offered.

"It would not be an overnight or inpatient facility," she said.

Kristen Parker, chief of external affairs for the Northeast Ohio VA system, last week confirmed ongoing talks with the city. She said providing veterans easier access to health care services throughout the region is a priority.

The agency is in preliminary stages of evaluating options to increase access to specialty care in Akron and Canton, Parker said, which includes the vacant hospital in Massillon.

"VA leadership is in discussions with the city of Massillon and VA Central Office leadership in Washington, D.C. regarding potential scenarios that would allow VA to use the [former Affinity] space," Parker said in an email.

Massillon is within an hour's drive to more than 62,000 enrolled U.S. military veterans, according to Parker, and the former hospital could provide an opportunity to enhance specialty services for a large portion of vets in the southern portion of the VA's service area.

Parker said it was "too early to provide any specifics" regarding the VA's interest level in Affinity and the number of jobs a new clinic could bring to the area.

Catazaro-Perry was also mum on a precise number of jobs, though she acknowledged the amount "would be significant."

Affinity is attractive to the VA — at least partially — because of the city's continuous care and maintaining of the facility over the last year, Catazaro-Perry said. Utilities, property maintenance, salaries of two city employees and legal fees related to the acquisition have totaled about $2 million since that time.

"Had we locked the doors and turned off the lights, they told us it would not have worked," the mayor said.

The city and Veterans Administration are looking at two acquisition-related options, according to Catazaro-Perry. One idea is a lease of the former hospital, while the other involves a combined "sale-donation" opportunity, she said.

There is no timetable for the city and VA to reach any agreement.

"Obviously, we'd love to do this tomorrow," Maley said, "but they have to go through their processes."

Catazaro-Perry first mentioned the VA's interest in Affinity during a May 6 City Council meeting. Any agreement reached between the city and VA would require council's approval.