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Task force: Full VA hospital isn't needed in NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 27. 2018 9:31PM
The VA Medical Center in Manchester. (ALLEGRA BOVERMAN/UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — A task force looking at the future of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manchester has issued a draft report that said a full-service VA hospital is not needed in New Hampshire.

The task force — which includes VA officials, a representative from New Hampshire hospitals, physicians and a VA whistleblower doctor — presented draft findings Monday and posted them on its website.

The task force said construction of a full-service VA hospital is not the best way to deliver in-patient hospital services to New Hampshire veterans.

“There is a high probability that by the time a new in-patient facility was constructed, there would no longer be enough demand to sustain its use,” reads a draft of the findings, posted on the VA website. “Additionally, the focus group and survey data collected by the task force shows that the number-one priority for veterans is to receive care close to home, regardless of who is providing it.”

In a statement provided to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, said she was disappointed in the findings .

“I am skeptical of suggestions that the VA can provide full services for our veterans without a full hospital,” Hassan said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said in a statement: “I have pushed for a full-service hospital in New Hampshire since I first took office and I continue to believe this option should remain on the table to ensure veterans have access to the best care possible.”

The co-chairman of the task force, retired Navy commander David Kenney, stressed that the findings are a draft, and the VA New Hampshire Vision 2025 Task Force will hold listening sessions this week with the congressional delegation and veterans groups such as The American Legion.

“We’re not done yet,” said Kenney, who is also chairman of the New Hampshire State Veterans Advisory Committee.

“We’re not making recommendations, we’re making findings,” he said. “They’ve been very touchy about those semantics.”

The task force was formed last summer after whistleblowers at the VA raised allegations of “Third World outcomes” for patients with spinal problems, flies in an operating room, unsterile equipment and other problems with the Manchester facility.

That prompted VA Secretary David Shulkin to remove the top officials at the Manchester facility. Interim replacement Al Montoya was named permanent director last week. He did not return emails seeking comment.

Shulkin also appointed the task force, which was charged with reviewing veterans health care in New Hampshire and making findings. Kenney said the task force will meet again on March 14 and 15 and finalize its report. Those final findings will be presented to the VA’s Special Medical Advisory Group in Orlando, Fla., on April 11.

Any changes would eventually have to be approved by Shulkin.

For decades, the Manchester VA Medical Center has offered a wide array of specialty practices, an emergency clinic, ambulatory surgery and a skilled nursing home. But it does not provide inpatient hospital care.

A full-service hospital has been a rallying cry for many VA advocates, and the New Hampshire congressional delegation has long endorsed the idea.

Others have been cool to the concept. Last summer Gov. Chris Sununu relaxed state regulations, which allowed VA doctors from the Manchester facility to perform procedures at Catholic Medical Center and Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester. The program has been described as ground-breaking; the task force said that should continue in the short-term.

Following is a portion of the findings. The full draft report can be found here:

“...the task force finds that the best method for delivering in-patient surgical care for New Hampshire veterans is through the use of partnerships and relationships. To start, a VA provider at Manchester will work closely with a veteran to determine what the best option is for them on an individual level. There are surgical services available within the VA New England network, in Boston, White River Junction, and Maine.

“Additionally, there are many high-quality community hospitals across New Hampshire where, through partnership with the VA, many veterans are already receiving their in-patient care. The veteran would be able to decide for themselves, in consultation with their VA providers and family, which option will work best for them.”

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