Patients demanded answers.
On Thursday, June 17, a town hall meeting was held at the Brooklyn Veteran Affairs Hospital to discuss the VA’s plan to close 25 in-patient medical surgery unit beds to 12 West starting July 1.
The assembly room on the second floor of the hospital was packed, with many veterans having to stand during the meeting.
For over an hour, hospital Director Martina Parauda discussed the ongoing situation and fielded questions from the concerned veterans.
“I want to bring the highest quality of care to each and every one of you and your comrades and veterans. That’s what I have to focus on,” she said. “I also have to look at, do I have enough money to ensure that I’m providing the highest level of care and decide where we can be more efficient, where I might need to shift resources as opposed to keeping them always in the same place.”
According to Parauda, budgetary concerns have led the VA hospital to shift resources toward out-patient since that’s where more of the care is now being delivered delivered. “I can’t cut anything on out-patient,” she said. “If I do that, I’m telling you that I’m not giving you access. I don’t want to touch out patient. I don’t want to cut back on any program.”
The price of new drugs, such as those used in the treatment for Hepatitis C, was brought up. “We have all the expertise we need with New York Harbor to help every vet with Hepatitis C,” Parauda said. “The problem is we don’t have the money for the drugs. That’s not unique to New York Harbor. That’s going on across the country.”
The decision to shut an in-patient ward was made, Parauda said, because that is where there is “excess capacity. On any given day,” she stressed, “a high percentage of my beds aren’t utilized. That’s good because that means you don’t need to be in the beds. But it’s inefficient for me because I have staff that has to be there in case a veteran needs to go into one of those beds.”
Although the change was described as a “work in progress and still under discussion,” the target date for the closure is Wednesday, July 1. According to the preliminary plan, patients who are on 12 West won’t be moved elsewhere. Instead, as patients are ready to be sent home, they’ll be discharged from 12 West, with the hospital declining to admit any new patients to 12 West as of the closing date.
“By Saturday, July 21, we’re estimating there won’t be any patients left on 12 West,” Parauda went on. “It’s not like we’re going to pack you up and say now you’re going to Manhattan. That’s not the plan. Rather, we will just slowly phase out whoever happens to be in 12 West at that time,” she said.
Parauda then told attendees that no one will lose their jobs as a result of the change, as the 30 employees on 12 West are planned to be reassigned to vacancies within the facilities.
Nonetheless, many veterans remain upset. “As a veteran who utilizes the VA for my primary health care, the closure of 12 West is unacceptable to me,” said Iraq veteran Jeff Camp.
Local dignitaries are equally perturbed. “Undoubtedly, those who have served our nation deserve access to the best healthcare possible,” said State Senator Marty Golden in a statement. “Any failure to attend to the needs of our soldiers, in this case eliminating 25 hospital beds, is wrong and irresponsible of our government.”
“I am deeply disturbed by this proposal and the rapid pace in which it was developed,” said Congressmember Dan Donovan in a statement. “The VA did not brief my office or other local offices before formulating this plan.”