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.

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(1) comment

chicagomike

Dear Congressman DeFazio, it is noted in this article that you oppose the rapid downgrade of Roseburg's ER but not the downgrade itself.

in 2014 the Grants Pass VA clinic sent me to the Roseburg ER. I arrived at 11:30 am there were two Veterans n the waiting room ahead of me and when they called my name at 5:30 the waiting room was standing room only with Veterans seeking medical care. I gave up my place to another Veteran who was in worse shape than I was, they were not properly triaging at that point. When I checked out, the ER clerk informed me that deliberately short staffing ER Doctors by Director Bogedain was the cause of the problem and asked me to write a letter to you. In her response to your inquiry, Bogedain stated that Roseburg would be contracting with a group of physicians to fully staff the ER 24/7. After Bogedain, was Director Paxton who was deliberately diverting ambulances/high risk patients away from Roseburg. Thank you for your efforts and results with those two past directors. It was Director Whitmer who wanted to reduce RoseBurg"s ER to a 12 hour operation because he said the number of Veterans using the ER was low. the reasons given for not being able to reduce the hours was because Roseburg would not be able to receive ambulances and the new Oregon Veterans home, when built, would require ER Services.

It was recently reported here by a retired Roseburg VA ER employee turned whistle blower that 90% of Ambulances were/are being diverted away from Roseburg ER.

Director Allen claims that due to a shortage of personnel he declared an emergency and moved up the date to end ER Services in Roseburg. With over 250 reported vacancies, this emergency did not occur in Allen's 36 hour time frame he now claims as his reason to again systemically reduce services to Veterans. The Roseburg VA continues to manufacture problems and reduces services to Veterans as a solution to those manufactured problems. The GAO in its recent report even recognizes that the VA has failed to engage in proper recruitment efforts to fill vacancies as one of the reasons for VA medical personnel shortages. 2 hours before the June 25th Roseburg Town Hall an ambulance was called to treat a Veteran who was less than 200 feet from the Roseburg's Emergency Department doors. These staffing shortages have been solved in the past (Hawaii being another one of many examples) and Doctors have been given many incentives to locate to rural areas to solve vacancy problems. There are proven solutions to these problems. I would encourage you Congressman Defazio to put pressure on the VA to implement proven solutions to staffing problems rather than go along with whatever the latest fabricated reasons given by the VA for not filling vacancies. It should also be noted here that unlike the Roseburg VA eliminating ER services, Curry Medical Center in Brookings is in the process of upgrading it's Urgent Care to an Emergency Room to treat and stabilize patients before transporting to a full service hospital.

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