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Spokane VA emergency room cut 24-hour service in December 2014; Veterans forced to go elsewhere for care after hours

**VIDEO available here**

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, pressed top Veterans Affairs (VA) officials, including Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald and Interim Under Secretary for Health Dr. Carolyn Clancy, on when the Department plans to reopen the emergency room at the Spokane VA Medical Center for 24 hour service.  In December, staffing shortages forced the VA to dramatically cut the emergency room operating hours for veterans in Eastern Washington.  

Watch video of the exchange here, where Senator Murray asks about the Spokane VA at 01:53. 

A full transcript of the exchange is below:

Senator Murray: I also wanted to ask you about the Spokane VA Medical Center. As you are very aware, the emergency room at the Spokane medical center has dramatically cut back its operations because of staffing problems. The medical center has repeatedly pushed back the date to resume full-time operations, and now I’m being told it isn’t going to be until next fall.

The Spokane VA has also recently asked for its surgical complexity rating to be downgraded.  I’m really concerned about that request and the potential impact on the access to care for our veterans in that region.  

Last year I asked Secretary Shinseki and Under Secretary Petzel whether there were any plans to reduce programs and services at the Spokane medical center, and they assured me there were not.  Yet we now see this facility being downgraded. The medical center is not getting the job done so I want to know what you will do to restore emergency services and surgical care for the veterans that rely on the Spokane VA. 

Dr. Clancy: So one of the big challenges that we’ve had Senator, and we’ve discussed this previously, is actually recruiting top-notch…

Senator Murray: …I’ve been hearing that for 10 years.

Dr. Clancy: Well I’m meeting with the college of emergency physicians either next week or the week after that to try and see if we can help with them. The American Legion also has some ideas about how we might work with some of the hospitals there, and we’ve also raised the amount of available salaries that can be paid to people there. Ultimately, if we can’t recruit top-notch talent, we’re going to need to explore some kind of partnership between the Spokane facility and local hospitals vis-à-vis emergency care.

Senator Murray: Look, this has been ongoing forever, and it’s not being resolved, and it’s a huge issue for our Spokane veterans. So I want to talk with you again, Mr. Secretary, we’ve got to get this resolved – however we do it.

Secretary McDonald: While I know this has been going on forever and we accept full responsibility for it, I’ve been to over a dozen medical schools recruiting doctors, I’ve been to the osteopathic convention recruiting doctors. We are the canary in the coal mine – we’re seeing a problem that exists in American medicine. We need more primary care doctors, we need more doctors who will live in rural areas, and we need more mental health professionals. We’re working extremely hard to do that – and to find them, identify them, and convince them, and then give them a monetary incentive to locate there. And we’re going to continue to work very hard until we get that Spokane facility up and running again. 

Senator Murray: I really appreciate it.