Local veterans concerned about VA clinic changes | News, Sports, Jobs
JAMESTOWN, NY. – Thom Shagla is a veteran.
United States Navy, he served in the Vietnam War for 13 months and participated in the duration of the Tet Offensive.
Half a century later, he is living with the medical repercussions of his service.
“I have neuropathy in both legs caused by Agent Orange, I had quadruple heart surgery and bypass surgery”, Shagla says she reunited with and socially estranged from her veteran colleagues in the parking lot of Rolland Kidder’s office on Fluvanna Avenue. He then held up two bags full of prescription drug bottles.
“These are my daily pills – all from (Veterans Affairs),” he says. “Every scary day I take so many pills.”
Shagla – like so many other local heroes who have defended their country in battle and war – is worried about the recent announcement that the Jamestown VA outpatient clinic on Third Street will be moved to a new facility on Hazeltine Avenue.
Although the new facility is 3,000 square feet larger than the current one, the move will include a reduction of two full-time equivalent health care providers – a full-time physician and a full-time nurse practitioner to 1.6 – a full-time doctor. and a part-time nurse practitioner.
Kidder, who represented Chautauqua County in the New York State Assembly from 1975 to 1982, organized and brought together the group of concerned veterans, who are unsure why the reduction in care is being carried out – in especially in the midst of a pandemic.
“Why cut back on primary care especially at a time like this?” Kidder said. “The office has grown, there have been some turnover issues there if you read the context and stuff, but it’s been a lot stronger recently. If someone gets sick as a veteran, it will cost the federal government a lot more than if we keep primary care where it should be.
Michael Swartz, executive director of the VA Western New York Healthcare System, explained in an email to the Post-Journal that full-time equivalency is determined based on the number of veterans served by the clinic.
“Currently, the Jamestown VA clinic serves 1,500 veterans per year with the capacity to serve more veterans,” Swartz said, noting that the VA panel guidelines mandate a full-time physician for 1,200 patients and a full-time nurse practitioner for 900 patients.
“Staffing is adjusted based on enrollments, whether they increase or decrease”, he added, further explaining that this decision is “Not a downsizing initiative.”
Because the clinic has served under a model medical service contract since its inception in 1995, the Federal Procurement Regulations govern the maximum length of medical service contracts and requests for new proposals are “Solicited competitively” across the country, Swartz noted. The previous entrepreneur, Sterling Medical Associates, had run the clinic for five years.
But, Greg Carlson, the county’s director of veteran services since 2016, found several issues with this approach.
“The figures are only a snapshot in time”, he said. “So it’s possible that when they started the contracting process and looked at the numbers, those numbers were two to three hundred different patients now than they were.”
Further, Carlson said he was frustrated that the clinic’s medical director, Dr Rudy Mueller, who left his private practice to serve local veterans at the clinic, was not consulted in the decision.
“The number one problem with all of this is that the guy with the title, the doctor, the doctor, Rudy Mueller, who is the clinic director, had no input.” Carlson said. “Nothing. They haven’t asked him for his opinion. It’s not the VA, it’s not the entrepreneur, but he’s on the ground.
Carlson said that since Mueller – who declined to comment for this story – arrived at the VA in 2018, the number of registrations has increased dramatically.
“Not only did I have vets who wanted to enroll in VA health care for the first time so they could keep Dr. Mueller, but spouses of vets also asked me if they could use the VA. since their spouse was a veteran, “ he said.
“The current doctor here is well respected and has been part of the community”, added Mike Lyons, who was also present at Kidder’s office. “It’s amazing to me that he left private practice to go to the VA. He would tell you he came because he wanted to help the veterans. He’s great, and all the doctors here will tell you that. Then all of a sudden, shaking from the outside without involving it is absolutely wrong and for the whole community it is wrong.
Swartz, however, claims the decision was made by the entrepreneur.
“An award is given to the responsible offeror whose proposal, in accordance with the solicitation, is fair and reasonable and has been deemed to be of greatest benefit to the government,” he said. “Sterling Medical Associates would be responsible for discussing the details of the contract with its employees.”
Still, local veterans fear cuts will continue at the Jamestown facility, forcing numbers to continue to decline and others to travel further for care.
“It’s the only insurance I have with the VA”, Shagla said. “Nobody wants to go to Buffalo. Can’t go to Buffalo because I’m more likely than anyone to catch anything and it’s 150 miles round trip from Bemus Point. So what are they doing? They go to the clinic in Warren, PA, and once they get to the clinic in Warren, PA, they’re assigned to the VA in Erie, which is 40 miles from our home. They have lost people here for several reasons: but one of them is there.
Bob Dickey is one of those veterans who has “Bounced back,” due to several conditions which could not be met here in Jamestown. When he finally found a VA doctor in Dunkirk who could cure a particular condition, the AV threatened to prevent him from using the facilities in Jamestown.
“Here, I waited to receive reasonable care from the doctor in Dunkirk, but I received nothing here in Jamestown”, he said. “Here they have this fantastic building with extra square footage. It’s politics for you, isn’t it? It looks good, but that’s about it. Just to show you the things that I’ve been through in regards to the twists and turns, the only thing that happens to me is to deteriorate.
While the current decision cannot be overturned, Swartz noted, he noted that the contractor may allow staffing adjustment if the number of registrations increases. Carlson therefore believes he has a solution by issuing a call to action for local veterans in Chautauqua County.
“We have 11,000 veterans in Chautauqua County”, he said. “If you’re a veteran, go do your patriotic duty and sign up for VA Health Care, even if you’re just getting your physique once a year. It will increase the number and if you increase the number you have no choice but to have two suppliers. “
He added, “There’s a misconception that if I’m a veteran and relatively healthy and going (to the VA), I’m taking care of someone else. Enrollment is based on the pool of eligible veterans that is enrolled, so you take it away from your fellow veterans by not enrolling for a perk you’ve earned through your service as we now have 1.5 providers. instead of two. “
Local veterans, meanwhile, who have appealed to state and federal officials, are hopeful this change can simply be delayed for now.
“With 11,000 people here and the coronavirus affecting people who don’t have jobs, there may be higher demand just with the coronavirus at some point,” said Dave Shepherd. “We have a lot of people who need the service and are eligible for it and it’s just madness.”
Added Kidder, “One of the words that came out of this current lexicon with this pandemic is the word ‘Pause’. Maybe we need to pause what the VA is doing there and the staff there to bring the numbers up. “