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VA edges toward reopening Fort Wayne ICU

Stutzman fears loss of unit for area

– The Department of Veterans Affairs says it is closer to reopening the intensive care unit at its Fort Wayne medical center.

The four-bed ICU has been closed since October 2012, when the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System temporarily suspended inpatient services at the medical center because of lapses in care. All services except the ICU were restored within a year after the suspension.

“Our plan is to open the ICU as soon as we can,” system public affairs officer Michael Brady said this week in an email. “We are currently looking for two more providers and finalizing training for our current workers.”

The ICU will have the equivalent of 24 1/2 full-time employees when it reopens. In February, system director Denise Deitzen said the unit would be reinstated when staffing, policies and procedures were in place.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, raised questions about the ICU during a recent visit to the medical center at Lake Avenue and Randallia Drive. He later said he worries that the longer the ICU remains closed, the greater the possibility that VA officials in Washington could decide it no longer is needed.

“If there is a demand for services, we want to provide them. And if we don't and veterans start going elsewhere, I don't want to give the national administration any excuse to say, ‘Well, you haven't had it for two years, do you really need it now?' ” Stutzman said in a telephone interview.

The medical center has been referring ICU cases to Lutheran and Parkview hospitals and other VA facilities.

Stutzman said that if the fourth-floor ICU were not to reopen, the local medical center might be at risk of losing other patient services.

“I just don't ever want to put ourselves in a situation where the national administration says, ‘Hey, you know what, these vets can go to Indianapolis or Ann Arbor,' ” he said about VA medical centers in the Hoosier capital and southeast Michigan.

“I don't think we're close to that at all, but I don't want to ever let it become part of the conversation,” said Stutzman, a former member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

Brady said VA has funded more than $6 million worth of capital projects at the Fort Wayne medical center in the past three years, including development of a stand-alone outpatient clinic for mental health treatment. Projects totaling $10 million, including renovations of the third and fourth floors and a basement addition, “are all in conceptual design or actual construction documents for the Fort Wayne campus,” he said.

During his early-July visit and tour of the medical center, Stutzman met with Paul Bockelman, the director of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Veterans Integrated Service Network 11. The network oversees VA hospitals and clinics for most of Indiana, northwest Ohio, Michigan's Lower Peninsula and central Illinois.

It was the regional network that found “structural issues with clinical care, especially within the ICU” during an October 2012 review of the Fort Wayne hospital, resulting in the suspension of inpatient care, according to a report last year by the VA inspector general.

Bockelman has visited the facility six times since he became network director about a year ago. He said in an email that this month's visit with Stutzman “was a great opportunity … to discuss the current status of the Fort Wayne Campus and the future for providing excellent care to our Veterans.”

Stutzman said, “I really do believe the local administration is doing their level best to provide our vets good service.” He said he told Fort Wayne officials that he is their “biggest fan.”

“I want to support them however I can, because ultimately it comes down to service to the veterans,” he said. “But I'm also going to criticize them for the things that need to be fixed.”

Stutzman is challenged by Democrat Justin Kuhnle in the Nov. 4 election.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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