MANCHESTER - The number of veterans making trips out of state for medical procedures could be reduced this summer after the operating room at the VA Medical Center in Manchester opens in late July following $3.5 million in renovations.
"We are renovating our operating room, and the construction should be completed next month," said Debra Krinsky, voluntary service officer with the Manchester VA Medical Center. "Our old operating room will be reopening for those ambulatory services it provided two years ago. It won't happen right away, but gradually we hope to get there in terms of cases performed here."
That word comes in the wake of recent national headlines about long wait times for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. Both of New Hampshire's U.S. senators said late last week the opening of the Manchester VA's operating room was welcome news.
"I had the opportunity to learn about the renovation project during a recent visit to VAMC Manchester, and the improved operating room will allow for the resumption of outpatient surgical care for New Hampshire veterans, without forcing them to travel long distances to other VA facilities," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. "I will continue my efforts to ensure that New Hampshire veterans have access to timely and quality care."
"This is great news for New Hampshire veterans who too often have to travel long distances to receive care, but the fact is that we have more work ahead of us," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. "I'll continue working on bipartisan efforts to expand access to care for New Hampshire veterans but also implement much needed reforms at the VA. The mismanagement crisis at the VA is entirely unacceptable and must be addressed immediately."
The Manchester VA's operating room is expected to be ready to accept cases beginning July 21, according to Krinsky. New floors are being poured June 23, with staff moving in to the renovated suite July 7.
Renovations include the complete replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, a new flooring system, new medical gas piping and new lighting. KMK Construction of Eliot, Maine, is the general contractor performing the work.
Krinsky said the Manchester operating room will offer colonoscopies, cystoscopies and pain relief procedures. Krinsky said the facility should begin to offer cataract surgeries, circumcisions, hernia repairs, prostate biopsies, vasectomies and simple gynecological procedures in the coming months.
"Additional cases will be added each month," said Krinsky. "Manchester is working in collaboration with the White River Junction VA, who will be sending a surgeon to Manchester two days a week."
The facility houses 543 employees, with more expected to be added once the operating room opens.
Manchester's VA Center was downsized more than 10 years ago for financial reasons.
It lost its "full-service" designation after an assessment by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General in 2000. At the time of the downsizing, it was a 28-bed primary- and secondary-care hospital employing about 500 people and operating on a $41.8 million budget, providing care to more than 15,000 veterans.
The Manchester VA Medical Center is composed of one main campus, in Manchester, and four Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Conway, Portsmouth, Somersworth and Tilton, where veterans can get primary care and mental health services and set up home-based skilled nursing care.
It is part of the VA New England Healthcare System, which includes eight medical centers across the six New England states.
Overall, the VA center in Manchester cares for about 23,000 veterans from eastern New Hampshire, with an operational budget of just over $135 million.
The health care system for eligible New Hampshire veterans includes regional outpatient clinics; acute care (hospitalizations) provided through a contract with Concord Hospital; and daily transport to Boston-area VA hospitals for specialty care such as eye or hip surgery.
Veterans from the four westernmost counties in New Hampshire go through the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., while those living in the southern tier are sent to several VA hospitals in Massachusetts, including Bedford, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, to receive care within the federal VA hospital system.
Vets who need hospitalization are often sent to Concord Hospital.
The VA also contracts with Elliot Hospital in Manchester for psychiatric beds. For medical care not offered in Manchester, Concord or the clinics, a van takes veterans from New Hampshire to West Roxbury or Jamaica Plain every day.
In fiscal 2012, the VA in Manchester cared for 24,274 veterans, according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General. The White River Junction facility served 15,804 veterans. The Manchester site generated 247,551 outpatient visits, while White River Junction generated 61,784.