State News

Fayetteville VA hospital workers call for reopening ER

Posted October 30, 2014 4:31 a.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2014 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Employees at the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville on Thursday called for reopening of the facility's emergency room, which closed in September because of a shortage of physicians.

About 30 members of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 1,200 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employees in Fayetteville, also demanded better working conditions as they demonstrated along Ramsey Street in front of the hospital.

Union officials say employees wanted to draw attention to problems that could be harmful to veterans.

"The veterans are left hanging out to dry," union spokesman Mike Rosenblatt said of the decision to close the emergency room. "We're here to demand that they open up the ER, hire some federal employee doctors and get this place up and running again."

The hospital temporarily converted its emergency department into an urgent care clinic – open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. – after a contractor couldn't provide enough physicians to properly staff an emergency room.

Deborah Dantzler, a nurse at the hospital, blamed management for the shutdown.

"They knew this was coming," Dantzler said. "You don't just get rid of doctors overnight."

Fayetteville VA Medical Center Director Elizabeth Goolsby said this week that there's no timetable for the emergency room's return, and it will reopen only when she considers it safe to do so.

"There are physicians in this medical center that say they are willing to take their turn working in the emergency room," union president J. David Cox said. "It's an absolute failure – a failure – on (Goolsby's) part that this emergency room is closed."

"We'd love to have our ER," hospital spokesman Jeffrey Melvin said. "The issue here has always been one of safety."

Melvin said using contractors to staff the emergency room is common practice nationwide.

"That is not uncommon throughout the VA or, for that matter, private practice," he said. "There is a shortage of ER doctors throughout the country."

Earlier this year, an audit of VA facilities found the Fayetteville hospital had some of the longest wait times in the nation for veterans seeking medical care. A complaint from the VA's Office of the Inspector General also says the hospital's Department of Surgery has "unfair and unsafe practices."

Some protesters questioned how the emergency room closure could happen with all of the scrutiny of the Fayetteville VA hospital.

"We keep on hearing the party line, but we don't see the action," Spencer Sikder said.