Recent developments at the Canandaigua VA Hospital regarding the closure of an in-patient acute psychiatric unit by November 30, 2006, have triggered strong reaction from local veterans, Senator Clinton, and Congressional Candidate Eric Massa. Earlier this year, the hospital was deemed to be a “Center of Excellence”, one of three across the country.
The Canandaigua V.A. center, now 73 years old, is a long-term care, 276-bed facility that specializes in ambulatory care, acute behavioral health care, rehabilitation, general nursing home care and homeless outreach.
The center also runs an outpatient clinic on Westfall Road in Brighton.
Situated on a 172-acre campus, the center and clinic have provided health care for an estimated 25,000 veterans in the region.
This year, these facilities are expected to treat about 17,500 patients.
Veterans have fought losing the psychiatric beds, and fear the Department of Veterans Affairs won’t deliver on promises to expand VA services in Canandaigua. That includes forming a Center of Excellence for mental health research and treatment; a search is underway for its director.
Veteran James A. Smith of Clifton Springs is commander of the Disabled American Veterans organization. Smith, who has used the center’s acute psychiatric services, is among those who is skeptical. He said Thursday he thinks it’s a bad sign that employees are preparing to close a psychiatric unit, especially when the hospital is supposed to be turning into a Center of Excellence.
Clinton has written a letter to the secretary of veterans affairs asking that he delay the closure of the in-patient acute psychiatric unit at the hospital. As we told you Thursday night, a nurse within the unit told us staff members were told that the ward would close on or about November 30th.
The original decision to close the unit came from the head of the VA in Washington back in 2004.
The acute psychiatric unit is one of the few remaining in-patient facilities at the Canandaigua VA and is a key element that qualified the hospital as a Center of Excellence. “It is outrageous that this administration would consider closing down critical facilities at a time when we have tens of thousands of new disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Massa. Veterans from those conflicts have been diagnosed with psychological trauma at a much higher rate than was the case in previous conflicts – underscoring the need for expansion of facilities like the one in Canandaigua. “We need to be talking about doubling funding for veterans’ health care,” said Massa, “not about cutting back essential services.”
Massa cited news reports that suggest that plans to close the unit were underway by the time of the public press conference. “The question we all should be asking is, How much did Randy Kuhl know, and when did he know it?”
Massa charged that Kuhl neglected his responsibilities to the veterans of the 29th District by allowing this plan to go forward without opposition. “Either he knew about the plans and chose to cover it up by participating in a press conference where he claimed to support the hospital,” charged Massa, “or he was once again out of touch with the reality on the ground in our District.”
And more from Mr. Massa – NY-29: What “Supporting the Troops” Really Means
We had all been promised, at least as far back as April of this year (link) that not only would the entire facility remain open, but it would become one of only a handful of Centers of Excellence dedicated to PTSD research and recovery. We were all cautiously optimistic about the future of the facility.
As recently as just a few weeks ago, my opponent took part in a press conference at the Canandaigua VA Hospital to announce that, sometime next spring, there would be an announcement about the future of the facility. He took the opportunity to pay lip service to veteran’s issues and express his support for plans to make the hospital a regional “center of excellence.” An article discussing the announcement is here. Notice the title: “Plans keep services at current V.A. center.” That title is exactly the story that Republican members of Congress and VA officials were feeding to the press three weeks ago.
… Only later did I discover how cynical this event really was. It turns out that, on the same day that my opponent was standing up at the podium, hospital administrators took the staff into a conference room and quietly told the employees of ward 3B – the acute psych ward – that their jobs would be gone by the end of November. The hospital spokesman continues to insist that no date has been set for the ward’s closing, but an internal VA memo confirms that November 30th is the deadline for all patients to be discharged or moved to other facilities.
From what we have been able to gather, there is a promise of a new 22 bed facility that will be an out-patient treatment center. This really sounds suspicious since out-patient treatment centers aren’t staffed the same as in-patient treatment centers and certainly don’t use beds in the same way an in-patient treatment center does.
The facility is being promised a new out-patient 22 bed facility, but I wonder when and if that will actually happen. And before that does happen, patient care will have to be sought in areas such as Buffalo and Syracuse. As quickly as the decision to close the acute-care ward seemed to have happened, could the new facility’s plan meet the same fate?
Our veterans deserve this care; PTSD is a serious affliction. At a time when many are and will be returning from their service in the Middle Eastern conflicts, reasonable and available treatment is crucial and is owed to our veterans. They have freely and unselfishly given their service to our country; now we need to take care of and help them. It is our duty and obligation to do so. This is not the time to start skimping and cutting resources.