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File | The Journal Gazette

VA center closes inpatient wards

Temporary, local officials say; outpatient care not affected

The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center has temporarily shut down its inpatient wards.

Between them, an acute care hospital and an intensive care unit, both on the fourth floor of the medical complex, have a capacity for about 30 patients. A medical center spokeswoman said Tuesday that five patients have been or will be transferred to area hospitals.

Suspending inpatient care will not affect outpatient services offered by the medical center at Lake Avenue and Randallia Drive, according to Sheryl Grubb, public affairs officer for VA Northern Indiana Health Care System.

Grubb said local VA leaders decided to temporarily close the 26-bed infirmary and six-bed ICU.

“We’re just looking at improving our processes” and “bettering veteran care” Grubb said in a telephone interview.

She said the decision was not dictated by outside VA officials or inspectors.

Ralph Anderson Sr., president of the union that represents workers at the medical center, said he has seen personnel from Veterans Integrated Service Network, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the local facility. The network’s territory includes most of Indiana.

The Fort Wayne medical center “didn’t have any policies and procedures in place to provide adequate patient care,” said Anderson, president of Local 1384 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

“This has been an ongoing problem. I’ve tried to address the issues and put the Department of Veterans Affairs on notice that we have a leadership problem here,” Anderson said.

In June 2011, the VA inspector general’s office issued a report based on an inspection of the Fort Wayne medical center ICU. The inspection found “inadequate management, documentation and review” of one patient and inadequate monitoring of another.

Additionally, the inspection found that during a six-month period, there was inadequate staffing on 23 days.

Last February, several military veterans complained about the medical center during a local forum conducted by Reps. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and Jeff Miller, R-Fla. Miller is chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Stutzman is a member of the committee.

During the forum, Miller said veterans “need the inpatient beds” at the medical center.

James Wegmann, press secretary for Stutzman, said Tuesday that Stutzman “has reached out to local patients” concerning the suspension of inpatient services and that Chief of Staff Tim Harris “has been in contact with high-ranking Veterans Administration officials, working to get to the bottom of this.”

VA in recent years scrapped plans to replace the nearly 200,000-square-foot medical center, which opened in 1950.

VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, which has facilities in six cities, serves nearly 43,000 veterans in Indiana and northwest Ohio.

The Fort Wayne medical center employs more than 600.