U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, is pushing back against plans to downgrade the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center emergency department to a 12-hour urgent care by Aug. 16.
“The decision to cease preparations and move forward abruptly with this plan is an alarming departure from what you have communicated to veterans, my office, and local media,” DeFazio wrote Tuesday in a letter to Roseburg VA Director Keith Allen.
Allen announced the change last week. While a downgrade had been expected, veterans weren’t expecting the change to take place until the end of the year.
In making the announcement Friday that the timeline had been moved up, Allen cited veteran safety as the chief concern. He said a shortage of qualified staff in critical support positions rendered the emergency department unsafe.
DeFazio noted that Allen had indicated in June that he expected the change to come in December, at the earliest. DeFazio also said that his staff received an email from Allen on July 19 stating the VA was collecting data, working on a formal communication plan and preparing for a town hall meeting in late August about the progress of the transition.
DeFazio said the status of the emergency department has been a source of tension between the VA and local veterans.
“It is difficult to understand why you abandoned your initial plan to provide a thoughtful and deliberative process that addressed the issues raised by veterans and other stakeholders,” DeFazio wrote.
Allen said Tuesday he intends to respond directly to DeFazio. He also reiterated his concern about staffing in the emergency department.
“Recruiting qualified emergency health care providers can be challenging — especially in rural areas like Roseburg,” Allen said in a written statement.
He said the Roseburg VA Health Care System cannot provide emergency department services without the staff to deliver them.
“That’s why this change was necessary and had to be implemented quickly,” he said. “It will enable Roseburg VAHCS to continue providing Veterans the best possible care. As we make this transition, we will continue working with stakeholders to keep Veterans informed of all changes in a timely manner.”
He urged veterans who feel their life or health is in danger to call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency department immediately.