EXCLUSIVE: Brooklyn VA Hospital to shutter in-patient ward

A ward with 25 in-patient medical surgery unit beds within the Brooklyn Veteran Affairs Hospital is slated to close this summer, much to the surprise of some of its patients.

As of July 1, patients will no longer be admitted to 12 West (12W) – one of three medical surgery wards within the Brooklyn campus of the hospital – and, as of July 20 or 21, the ward will close, according to Jonathan Weitz, lead labor representative for National Nurses United (NNU), a union that represents a number of the VA’s nursing staff.

The closure, he said, comes on the heels of a nationwide budget deficiency – one he pegged suspicious given the $207 million in Sandy funding allocated to the Manhattan campus that, to this day, he contended, remains unaccounted for.

“In our mind, closing a unit to save $2 million while no one can account for where $207 million was spent tells us something is wrong,” said Weitz, stressing that, at this point, NNU has sent two Freedom of Information Act Law requests but “nobody can tell [NNU] where a dime was spent.”

According to a flyer produced by Weitz’ team, the closure of 12W will mean a reduction of 35 percent in the number of medical surgical beds at the Brooklyn campus, and a 29 percent reduction in the number of all in-patient beds, leaving just 62 beds in total.

“Cutting access to veterans is not the solution,” Weitz asserted.

Allen Bortnick, a local resident and patient at the Brooklyn campus, agreed, stressing that, while there are still signs up warning the public about Ebola, there are no signs addressing the closure.

“There’s no notice of anything,” he said, adding that, while there may be two other wards the likes of 12W, there is no way the Brooklyn campus can contain the overspill caused by the closure. “It’s just unfair for many reasons, one of which being that these Brooklyn veterans are going to be told to take a hike.”

That hike, Bortnick stressed, will be to the Manhattan campus, which, he said, won’t be much help either.

“I took a walk over [to the Brooklyn campus] last week, and there were 16 patients in the ward,” he said, noting that – from what he’s heard – only a handful of inpatient beds tend to be available within Manhattan’s wards. “You can’t put 16 into five.”

Still, the hospital’s director told this paper that there was more than enough room to make the cut.

“[I looked at] where the data indicated that I can close a part of something – at least temporarily – and not affect the care that I provide to veterans,” said Martina Parauda, director of the New York Harbor Healthcare System, “and so I looked at in-patient care because, more and more, healthcare is done on an out-patient basis – not only in the VA but in the private sector; that’s just how healthcare is.”

According to Parauda, only 65 percent of the VA’s in-patient beds were full on any given day during the healthcare system’s last fiscal year.

“From that data, we identified the ability to close one of the three wards in Brooklyn,” she went on, stressing that – for now – the ward will see a temporary closure of just 15 months and no jobs will be lost in the process. “We will still be able to accommodate the needs of Brooklyn patients in other units and if, on any given day, the wards are full, then I will transfer a Brooklyn patient to the Manhattan campus – but I don’t expect that to happen.”

In addition, Parauda said, there will be a town hall meeting on the impending closure – open to all veterans – on Wednesday, June 17 at 2 p.m. at the Brooklyn campus.

Nevertheless, Bortnick said, it’s too little, too late.

“This is something I will not tolerate,” the Ridgeite said. “This has got to be stopped.”

The Brooklyn Veteran Affairs Hospital is located at 800 Poly Place.

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