Fearing that the Brooklyn VA Hospital could ultimately be in jeopardy, supporters of the facility — which treats veterans from across the borough as well as Staten Island — are staking their position in support of the hospital, which recently decided to shutter its ENT clinic.
On Friday, June 1, veterans, Congressmember Dan Donovan and the New York City Veterans Alliance joined together at a conference at the Knights of Columbus, 1305 86th Street, to protest the closure and express their concern that the hospital so many former members of the military rely upon will eventually downsize to an outpatient only clinic or transform into condos.
“It’s already hard for some of our local veterans to get to the Brooklyn facility and now many will have to travel to the Manhattan facility or one in the Bronx,” said Donovan. “This could be particularly devastating to those who are elderly or disabled, who may forgo visits instead of facing long and difficult commutes to get to their appointments. The decision needs to be reversed.”
“We’ve been seeing a gradual decline in services,” said Danny Friedman, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 72. One of the worries is that the facility will be the victim of a gradual diminution of services, effectively death by a thousand cuts. In 2015, the U.S. Veterans Administration decided to close a 25-bed inpatient medical surgery unit at the hospital, another move that was vocally protested by veterans and their supporters.
“The Brooklyn VA needs to be a beacon of quality health care for veterans in Brooklyn and the region in New York City,” added founding director of the New York City Veterans Alliance Kristen Rouse. “For the Brooklyn VA to keep reducing services is a profound disservice to the thousands of veterans who live here.”
The ENT unit is particular is important, Donovan contended, given that veterans have come home from war having being exposed to such toxins as napalm and Agent Orange. “One of our tactics overseas is we burn things like computers so our enemies can’t come back and recover the information,” he explained. “Whatever we burn affects [military members’] vision and respiratory systems, and that’s the unit were talking about closing.”
“It is unacceptable that the unit will be closed,” said Donovan in a letter to Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Peter O’Rourke. “It’s the VA’s responsibility to properly staff and maintain services for veterans in need.”
Apparently, the VA agrees. Martina Parauda, director of VANY Harbor Healthcare System told our sister publication The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “SUNY Downstate has decided to no longer support the ENT [ear, nose and throat] program at VA Brooklyn effective the end of June, despite an existing agreement to do so. SUNY has offered no assistance and its attending doctors will not agree to continue to provide care to veterans. We do not want to close the clinic and have patients scheduled thru June 22.”
Parauda added that the VA is “actively recruiting for ENT physicians.“
“It has been difficult to find them and we are working with other medical schools to help us find candidates,” she said.
SUNY Downstate, however, told the Brooklyn Eagle that the medical school terminated its agreement to supply residents for the program back in December 2017, giving the VA a full six months to hire new staff. The ENT service at Brooklyn VA is run by Dr. Michael Weiss, division chief of Maimonides Medical Center, and he has no affiliation with Downstate.
In a letter to this newspaper, Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, chair of SUNY Downstate’s Department of Otolaryngology, wrote, “The ENT clinic at the VA is managed by the Division Chief of Otolaryngology, who is employed by Maimonides Medical Center; not by SUNY Downstate. Moreover, the faculty who cover the VA clinics provide contracted services that are independent of any SUNY Downstate engagement or compensation. Downstate has had an ongoing, contracted residency affiliation agreement with the VA for nearly 30 years.
“Unfortunately, over time, opportunities for surgical training at Brooklyn VA have dwindled significantly, rendering it inferior to other potential training sites for resident education,” Rosenfeld went on. “Therefore, the SUNY Downstate Department of Otolaryngology has decided to move the two residents at the VA to an alternate site.
“SUNY Downstate is not in opposition of the ENT clinic,” he stressed. “How to maintain this clinic without resident coverage is a decision to be made by the VA and the Division Chief; it is not the responsibility of SUNY Downstate. Downstate opted to end our resident affiliation agreement with the VA in December of 2017 (providing six months’ notice as stipulated in the agreement) since the partnership no longer meets our resident physicians’ training needs. SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Brooklyn VA Hospital have no other agreements related to ENT service beyond last year’s terminated contract.
“While it is SUNY Downstate’s hope the ENT clinic remains operational, it is the responsibility of the ENT Clinic Division Chief and the Brooklyn VA Hospital to recruit new doctors and to decide how to manage the ENT service after any participating resident physicians leave,” Rosenfeld went on.
Additional reporting contributed by Mary Frost.