NH hospital expands care for veterans
By Pat Grossmith
The New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire's veterans will receive acute inpatient hospital care without having to travel to Vermont or Massachusetts, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced yesterday.
The VA is expanding its contract with Concord Hospital to provide the increased medical services.
"Our partnership with Concord Hospital significantly improves access to acute care for the veterans residing in New Hampshire," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.
Bruce Burns, chief financial officer at Concord Hospital, said the VA's existing contract was somewhat limited; Some veterans were required to go through the VA system to get certain inpatient care.
Acute care services targeted in the expansion include cardiac surgery, orthopedic care and treatment of kidney stones, Burns said. He estimated the expansion would most likely add a couple of hundred admissions per year at the hospital.
"We feel like we're in a good position to be able to support the veterans and make this work," Burns said.
U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., was meeting with a group of veterans in her Manchester office when she received a call from the VA informing her of the expanded medical care.
"We just broke into applause," she said. "This really is monumental."
Since her election three years ago, Shea-Porter has been trying to persuade the VA to make its Manchester medical facility a full-service hospital or allow veterans to be treated locally at a private hospital.
For the past 10 years, New Hampshire veterans needing immediate hospitalization, but who were able to safely travel by ambulance, were taken to VA hospitals in Massachusetts or Vermont. Now they will be able to remain in-state, closer to home and family.
New Hampshire is the only state without a full-service veterans medical facility. More than 105,000 veterans live in the six counties served by VAMC Manchester.
Shea-Porter introduced legislation requiring the VA to provide the same services veterans in other states receive to those living in the Granite State. U.S. Rep. Paul W. Hodes, D-N.H., co-sponsored the bill.
New Hampshire's congressional delegation rallied behind it. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., applauded the news.
"New Hampshire veterans served as courageously and honorably as any across the country, and they deserve the same high-quality medical services enjoyed by veterans in other states," Gregg said. "The news that the VA will partner with Concord Hospital to provide expanded medical services to our state's veterans will hopefully go a long way toward providing critical health and wellness services. I welcome this announcement and will continue following the new partnership closely to help ensure that the care provided is at the same level or higher as veterans who have full-service facilities in their states."
Shaheen said, "Too many New Hampshire veterans have been forced to travel to Boston for basic medical care. These men and women, who put their lives on the line in defense of our freedom, deserve better."
Shea-Porter said she is "absolutely delighted" with the VA's decision, but said more needs to be done, especially for veterans living in the North Country who still have a long way to travel to receive medical treatment. She said some veterans may still opt to receive care at veterans medical centers in White River Junction, Vt., or Boston.
Shea-Porter said one of the joys of her job is to be able to make things right.
She took up the veterans' cause, she said, because it was "just wrong" that New Hampshire's veterans should be treated unfairly and not receive the same health care as veterans in other states.
The issue, she said, was especially dear to her because her husband, Gene, is a U.S. Army veteran, who was born on a U.S. Army base in Germany.
The expanded medical services will allow the VA to provide coordinated care and services equivalent to a general medical and surgical hospital locally within New Hampshire, according to the VA.
The VA will have staff at Concord to coordinate care for the veterans admitted to Concord Hospital as they transfer back to VA services after discharge.
The VA and Burns, at Concord Hospital, did not have an immediate value for the expanded contract.
In an interview last year, Manchester VA Medical Center Director Marc F. Levenson said the new contract for acute care with Concord Hospital, which took effect in October, ranged in value from $2 million to $3 million. At the time, he estimated fewer than 1,000 veterans travel to VA hospitals in Boston or to White River Junction, Vt., for acute or critical care.
Last year, the VA spent more than $300 million on behalf of the state's 132,000 veterans. In addition to the medical center in Manchester, the VA operates outpatient clinics in Conway, Portsmouth, Somersworth and Tilton, and a veterans center in Manchester.
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