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Web letter by Tom Keen: Stutzman must step up to stop unprecedented VA moves

The Department of Veterans Affairs Northern Indiana Healthcare System’s temporary “pause” of inpatient operations in the intensive care unit and the acute medical unit at the Fort Wayne campus is both unprecedented and suspicious. No reasons have been cited for the closure other than to afford the hospital the opportunity to review its processes, provide training to staff and ensure continued ability to maintain the most flexible systems and highest standard of care for veterans.

We have been through this before, with the VA trying to close the inpatient beds at the Fort Wayne hospital in 2004. The sudden removal of patients and the closure of the inpatient and surgical units smack of a back-door maneuver to accomplish what couldn’t be done in 2004. I know of no other VA hospital in the country closing inpatient care to provide training – ever.

The community would be outraged if the Parkview or Lutheran systems closed inpatient care in this way. Still, there has been little follow-up by the media and no further statements have been issued by the hospital with a timeline for reopening, or, for that matter, any additional information.

In June 2011, the VA Office of Inspector General Office of Healthcare Inspections released a report based on anonymous complaints regarding inappropriate care. Those violations were corrected yet, a little more than one year later, the same scenario is playing out again. This “second” report – issued Oct. 24 – found problems and made several recommendations. The report recommended that the facility’s acting director ensure that facility respiratory care policies are updated, including specific guidance and expectations for ordering oxygen therapy; that peer review processes comply with Veterans Health Administration policy; and that an assessment of arterial blood gases use is completed.

The Veterans Integrated Service Network and acting facility directors reportedly agreed with the findings and recommendations and provided acceptable improvement plans. The report made no recommendations to close or temporarily pause inpatient operations on the intensive care unit and the acute medical unit.

Equally troubling is the reaction by our representative in Congress, Marlin Stutzman. The Journal Gazette endorsed Stutzman for a second term because “he is well aware of Indiana’s needs.” It’s clear he is not well aware of our local veterans’ needs. Stutzman has not been able to report any progress to the 30,000 veterans living here in Allen County or to all the veterans living in the Third Congressional District.

This is not a partisan issue; this is veterans’ issue. As a member of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Stutzman, more than almost any other representative, should have been on top of this situation, but instead his priority was campaigning out of state. It’s time for answers, time for action, time to represent Veterans, time for Stutzman to represent voters who just elected him for a second term.