Pushing the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center to reopen its intensive care unit is the right strategy for the Douglas County Veterans Forum.
It’s good that the forum, which represents 18 veterans groups and 5,000 veterans, is unwavering in its stance.
The forum’s message is solid because the group understands veterans and it’s looking to the future.
The forum knows that re-establishing the ICU is the key to restoring the facility to a full-service hospital. Without the ICU, fewer surgeries can be performed and the hospital’s emergency department basically becomes an urgent care clinic.
That’s not acceptable to veterans, nor should it be for Veterans Affairs.
“Most veterans prefer to have their care at VA hospitals,” Douglas County Veterans Forum President Jim Little said. “They feel the VA understands them better. They know what they’ve been through. When we walk through those doors, we feel at home.”
Without a full-service hospital in Roseburg, the VA leaves a gap in surgical care for all Southern Oregon veterans between Portland and San Francisco.
It’s also overlooking the advantage of having additional services at the hospital when more veterans live on the Roseburg campus in the future. Next month, 54 veterans will move into Eagle Landing, a housing complex for homeless veterans on the Roseburg campus.
Furthermore, Roseburg has been selected as the site of an Oregon state veterans retirement home, expected to house 150 veterans.
It doesn’t make sense to have so many veterans housed near the hospital but require them to be driven across town to Mercy Medical Center for surgeries and emergency care, Little said.
Despite VA Director Carol Bogedain’s assurance the ICU, which closed in 2009, will not reopen, Little said forum members retain hope.
The building of a sterilization unit on the campus points to the need for surgical instruments. A talk with the new regional director revealed he would consider sending Portland-area veterans to Roseburg for surgeries, to relieve the backlog there.
The forum’s drive to reopen the ICU doesn’t mean its members don’t have a good relationship with Bogedain. Little says she’s the first director to attend the forum’s monthly meetings and she’s made positive changes at the Roseburg VA. Still, the forum questions the accuracy of an average daily census of 1.5 patients in the ICU when it was open.
Little said the forum asked for statistics on how many veterans utilized ICUs at non-VA hospitals at that time, but never received that report.
The change in regional VA leadership and pressure from federal lawmakers keep the forum believing that future decisions may be different.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio continues to demand full services for Southern Oregon veterans.
Little said the willingness of the current generation to serve in an all-volunteer armed forces could be influenced by decisions being made now about veterans health care.
Bogedain insists that concerns for the safety of critically ill patients warrants the closure of the ICU. We share the forum’s concern that continued reduced services could relegate the Roseburg VA to an outpatient clinic.