Veterans fear the worst as Brooklyn VA Hospital announces cutbacks
Ear, nose and throat clinic to close; VA blames SUNY, SUNY blames VA
Brooklyn’s VA Medical Center is shuttering its ear, nose and throat clinic at the end of June, and veterans groups are fearful that this means the VA is moving ahead with the same elimination of full hospital services that was squelched last year after political intervention.
The Brooklyn VA and SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital are pointing the finger at each other for the program closure. SUNY Downstate provides residents to staff the VA’s clinic.
“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,” said Martina Parauda, director of VANY Harbor Healthcare System, located at 800 Poly Place in Brooklyn. “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,” she said.
SUNY Downstate, however, says 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.
A SUNY source said that Downstate pulled its residents out because the volume of surgery has declined at the Brooklyn VA to well below the level at other training sites, making it less than optimal for its residents.
Conflicting Information Given to Vets
Veterans who rely on the clinic will now be forced to travel to the Manhattan or Bronx VA facilities, causing hardships on the elderly and disabled in particular, Kristen Rouse, founding director of NYC Veterans Alliance, told the Brooklyn Eagle. Patients given the option of seeking private care using VA Choice will find limited options in the vicinity of the Brooklyn VA, along with a confusing bureaucracy, she added.
Rouse says veterans have received conflicting information about why the clinic will be closing.
“We were told that the residents who have staffed the clinic have lost their credentialing,” she said. However, “VA’s official statement last week blamed it on a regional staffing shortage.” The messaging “seems intended to shift the blame,” she fumed.
“If the strategy is to slowly close off these facilities and say that traffic is down — well, if you lock the door, traffic will be down,” she added. “No matter the reason, it is unacceptable that the unit will be closed, and it’s the VA’s responsibility to properly staff and maintain services for veterans.
The move to close the ENT clinic follows last year’s plan to close outpatient surgeries at the Brooklyn VA, which NYC Veterans Alliance, U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan and other veterans’ advocates halted.
Rally on Friday
On Friday, Rep. and other veteran groups rallied to demand that the Brooklyn VA reverse the closure.
“Our veterans have sacrificed to protect the freedoms we enjoy each day, and ensuring that they have access to the services they earned is the least we can do to try and repay the enormous debt we owe them,” Donovan said in a statement. “Closing the ENT Clinic at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center is unacceptable, and I won’t stop working until this decision is reversed.”
Donovan also sent a letter to the Acting Secretary of the VA requesting that the ENT clinic immediately be reopened and inquiring about what steps are being taken to address staffing vacancies.
Where Will Vets Go?
Parauda says 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,” Parauda said. “We need 1-2 full time ENT providers.”
“If a physician is not on board by the end of June the VA will schedule patients to be seen at Manhattan in available slots,” she added. “If we cannot schedule them within 30 days we will authorize care in the community under Choice. However, we have every intention of continuing to offer ENT services at Brooklyn as long as we have the doctors available to do so.”
All complex ENT procedures will be offered in Manhattan, and 25 percent of the routine cases are also expected to be treated in Manhattan, a VA spokesperson added. The VA did not supply figures regarding the number of veterans using the clinic.
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