MANCHESTER — With the surprise announcement this week that New Hampshire’s only Veterans Administration medical center is drastically reducing the hours of its urgent care unit, one local veteran calls the VA’s decision “a slap in the face’’ to the state’s veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday the VA medical center at 718 Smyth Road in Manchester is pulling the plug on 24-hour urgent care by changing its hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days a week, as of Aug. 30.
VA Director Alfred Montoya Jr. said in a statement the move is part of a plan to “modernize’’ care for New Hampshire’s veterans.
Services such as pharmacy, labs and radiology will be increased to match the urgent care unit’s hours.
But Vietnam veteran Tom Thibeault of Hooksett says the change in urgent care hours is a “slap in the face’’ to veterans.
“What they are doing is egregious,’’ he said.
Thibeault’s primary concern is the cost and hours of operation of private urgent care facilities. When he contacted U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s office to complain, he was referred to the VA Mission Act at www.missonact.gov.
The Mission Act allows veterans who live in a state without a VA hospital, such as New Hampshire, to use a private doctor who has opted into the program.
Thibeault worries that veterans who go to a private urgent care center may end up stuck with a big medical bill.
There is a concern within the medical community that schedule changes in the VA’s Urgent Care Unit may drive veterans to area emergency rooms.
Dr. Joe Guamaccia, medical director of Elliot’s Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centers, admits there is still some confusion about the difference between medical attention received at an urgent care facility versus a hospital emergency room.
Patients with life-threatening conditions such as profuse bleeding, severe abdominal pain or chest pains should go to a hospital emergency room either by ambulance or as a walk-in.
Urgent care, however, is faster than a hospital emergency room because it treats non-life-threatening medical situations such as a sore throat, pneumonia, rashes, burns and sports injuries.
If the illness or injury becomes more serious, urgent care staff can have an ambulance transport a patient to a hospital emergency room.
Ambulances are outgoing and not incoming at Elliot’s urgent care facility, said Susanna Fier, Elliot’s vice president of corporate communications and public affairs.
Under the VA’s urgent care benefit, veterans can seek care from the VA’s network of urgent care locations at: vaurgentcarelocator.triwest.com/Locator/Care.
There are three Manchester urgent care facilities on the VA’s list: Manchester Community Health Center is open 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; MinuteClinic’s hours differ by the day with the earliest opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m.; and Concentra Urgent Care’s hours are Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Concentra is closed on Sundays.
Information on eligibility for urgent care benefits is also available online at www.triwest.com/globalassets/documents/urgent-care/va_urgent_care_tips.pdf or by calling 833-4VETNOW.
For urgent care issues outside of those hours, there are more than a dozen private urgent care facilities in and around Manchester.
Elliot Urgent Care at River’s Edge in Manchester, for example, is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to its website.
If someone gets a sore throat after River’s Edge is closed, the facility offers Clockwise, an online scheduling system where patients can reserve a date and time for an appointment.