VA may cut hours
Senior Staff Writer
The emergency department at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center could scale back to daytime hours only, under a proposal being floated by VA leadership.
The emergency department gets relatively little use at night. About 92 percent of emergency department patients turn up during daytime hours, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Typically, just 2 or 3 of the average 35 daily visitors come in between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Roseburg VA Interim Director Dave Whitmer believes it would be safer for patients suffering nighttime medical emergencies to visit their nearest non-VA hospital instead. He said the VA does have highly trained emergency doctors on staff overnight, but because there are fewer ancillary services during those hours, the nighttime emergency department functions more like an urgent care than a hospital.
Under the current system, a patient arriving at night who has had a heart attack or been in an accident is transferred to CHI Mercy Medical Center by ambulance. It’s better, and safer, for them to go straight to Mercy instead, so there’s no treatment delay, Whitmer said.
“This is a patient safety issue. Without an (intensive care unit) and the ancillary services for veterans that present to the (emergency department) during overnight hours, I’m concerned we’re not best serving our veterans. With new procedures in place, veterans with serious emergency issues can be referred to Mercy directly, without coming to the Roseburg ED, and when approved by the administrator on duty, to have those bills paid for by the VA,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer hopes to expand a community choice contract with Mercy that would enable veterans to get care there at night at VA expense, without paying out-of-pocket.
Whitmer said under the proposed change, the VA’s emergency department would continue to function the same way during the daytime hours as it does today.
Money saved from the change could be used to add urgent care and emergency management services at the Eugene and North Bend VA clinics, both operated by the Roseburg VA.
No decisions have yet been made. Data must be gathered, discussions must take place and approval must be sought before the change could take place, Whitmer said.
Former Douglas County Veterans Forum president Jim Little said he was alarmed when he first heard the idea. Little, who waged a long battle against downsizing at the VA since it closed its intensive care unit in 2009, said he thought this sounded like further downsizing. Back then, there were discussions of reducing the emergency department to an urgent care.
“Veterans are always skeptical any time a bureaucracy tells us something, because Congress has told us so many things, and hasn’t come through with their promises,” he said.
Little said if the change is made, he hopes Whitmer will be able to make it painless.
“We asked specifically when this emergency department plan was first proposed, we said, ‘Well, does this mean basically all of our services here are going to be diminished and everything’s going to be lessened?’ We even asked if services would possibly relocated to Eugene. And he assured us no that was not the case,” Little said.
Current Douglas County Veterans Forum President Larry Hill was more optimistic.
“I would imagine it’s going to be a rather seamless transition. Folks are getting their panties in a wad over it, but there’ll be no diminution of services. That’s the big thing,” Hill said.
Hill said it makes sense to him that Whitmer is trying “to get better services everywhere for the same bucket of money. Because we’re not going to get extra money now. We can sorta forget that for awhile.”