Janet's Conner

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Saturday, July 29, 2006


SPOKANE, Washington---A sharp reduction in urgent care hours at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Spokane has drawn the attention of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, (D-WASH).

Cantwell sent a letter to VA Regional Director Max Lewis asking why urgent care hours had been cut from 24 per day to 8-1/2 per day at the beginning of July.

"I've heard from concerned veterans in Eastern Washington who worry that under this plan, they will no longer have affordable access to the care they need in an emergency," Cantwell said Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said a lack of business prompted the change.

"The numbers dropped significantly after 6 p.m.," said Jane Schlike, spokeswoman for the hospital. "We were seeing four to six people from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m."

The urgent care center is for relatively minor medical cases, Shilke said. It is not set up as an emergency room for serious injuries, she said. There are no laboratory or X-ray facilities and no trauma surgeon on call, she said.

The VA sent letters to some 23,000 clients announcing that the center would be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., rather than 24 hours a day, starting July 1, Schilke said. About 40 replies were received, she said.

The VA will pay for emergency room visits for veterans for service-related conditions, or those who have no other insurance, she said.

Medical care for veterans is a touchy subject in Eastern Washington. The VA in recent years has proposed closing or altering the VA hospital in Walla Walla. The exact fate of that facility is still not clear, although the VA sys it will not close it down.

Cantwell, who faces a tough re-election fight this year, said veterans deserve medical care.

"We need to make sure these brave Americans who have given so much for our country always have access to quality health services, including urgent care," she said in a news release.

In her letter, Cantwell asked the VA to explain the changes in detail, outline potential efforts of the plan on area veterans and describe how veterans would get urgent care after hours.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Nicholas K. Geranios/AP Writer
July 26, 2006


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