ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering several ways to bolster services in New Hampshire so patients don’t have to travel to other New England facilities, a top official said Wednesday.
The VA New England Healthcare System’s network director, Michael Mayo-Smith, told a town hall meeting in Rochester that a task force has been formed to examine bringing back a full-service veterans hospital to New Hampshire. The hospital was closed in 1999 because of what Mayo-Smith described as a declining number of patients and the loss of doctors being provided by a Boston private hospital.
The task force, which is expected to release its findings in January, is considering upgrades that could take one of several forms: a free-standing hospital, partnerships with private hospitals or increased services at existing facilities. Before a decision is made, the VA will hear from veterans and their families, employees and the state’s Democratic congressional delegation.
“My goal is to deliver as many of the services that the VA provides in other states within the state of New Hampshire,” Mayo-Smith told about three dozen people who attended the session. “Exactly how we do that we don’t know. But that is in the back of our minds.”
The town hall meeting was the latest effort by the VA to regain the trust of veterans after the Boston Globe reported last month on a whistleblower complaint filed by physicians alleging substandard care at state’s only medical center for veterans.
They described a fly-infested operating room, surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized and patients whose conditions were ignored.
Several top executives at the hospital have been removed. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, on a visit to the center earlier this month, also highlighted $30 million in additional funding to the facility including funds for repairs to flood-damaged areas.
In Rochester, several veterans seemed perplexed and confused about the loss of the full-service hospital.
“I am wondering what happened. We had a hospital,” said Susan Cuddy, a nurse who served in the Navy from 1970 to 2008. “Who let it go? The VA or the feds? … I used to work at the hospital. They did surgery … everything but open heart. We had residents and interns. What happened?”
Robert Skinner, a Marine whose father was a Korean War veteran, recalled how he would spend much of day traveling to Boston just so his dad could get blood work done. He said such basic services should be provided closer to home.
“Bring it back. Bring it back,” Skinner said of a VA hospital in the state. “Don’t make me have to go travel.”
But Republican State Sen. James Gray, a Vietnam War veteran who was at the hearing, said he would rather see increased services around the state, instead of concentrating everything in Manchester.
“If we all talk about the ideas that are out there, we may be able to do this within the infrastructure we have and still support the veterans,” Gray said, adding that it would be difficult for “a veteran from Colebrook or somewhere way up north” to get to a hospital in Manchester.
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