SPOKANE, WASH- Washington Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are speaking out about rumors that the VA Hospital in Spokane is going to close.
“There's a lot of rumors flying,” McMorris Rodgers said, “I’ve heard about these rumors. They're false. I’ve talked personally with the Deputy Secretary who says these are false. I talked with Mann-Grandstaff's director, he told me it's false. Inpatient care must be protected now more than ever and these rumors are false.”
KHQ has reported on concerns that dozens of VA medical centers across more than 20 states are facing the possibility of either closing, or major restructuring, Spokane and Walla Walla being on that list.
Lawmakers are pointing to what’s known as the “AIR Commission,” for creating the confusion.
Both Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Patty Murray have gone toe-to-toe with VA Secretary Denis McDonough and the VA as a whole, saying they will not tolerate a reduction in services for Eastern Washington veterans.
This morning the congresswoman sent a letter to Dr. Fischer, the medical director at the VA, the top line of that letter reads, “It was great to hear from you that there are no immediate plans to close or reduce inpatient services at Mann-Grandstaff.”
It goes on to further address concerns about the current status of care.
The letter points out not only that the facility was at capacity, and that she would like to see inpatient services expanded as soon as possible, but she would also like to see the reopening of the 24/7 urgent care.
KHQ spoke exclusively with the congresswoman on this topic and asked her if she could address the rumors regarding the closure and/or reduction of services at both the Spokane in Walla Walla facilities.
During a Senate Appropriations hearing early last week, Senator Patty Murray slammed the VA secretary saying that she will not tolerate the reduction of services or a closure.
The Senator pointed out that one in 10 residents in Washington are veterans, she added regardless of where they live, rural or metropolitan they deserve the same standard of care.
A closure would result in veterans having to drive 2+ hours to receive care.
Senator Murray told the VA secretary that the AIR commission which would be responsible for the consideration of a reduction of services --- is out of touch with what’s going on the ground.
“A reduction of in-patient services is just a complete non-starter for me,” Senator Murray said to Secretary McDonough.
Per senate appropriations transcription:
“There is a reason we have a commission in place for this. So tell me why is VA skipping steps in the process and continuing to cut services in Eastern Washington?” Murray said.
McDonough indicated there is no plan to cut services at Mann-Grandstaff, stating the process established at the AIR Commission for this circumstance should be allowed to play out.
Both McMorris Rodgers and Murray say they will not tolerate any further dismantling of the local VAs.
“I think what's driving these rumors is the air commission survey,” McMorris Rodgers said, “These are early and they have to go to the president and congress and that takes months and years. But as far as today there are no plans and these rumors are false.”
In addition to these rumors both McMorris Rodgers and Murray are expressing serious concerns with the Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHR) program rollout.
The record system has been problematic since its introduction in the Spokane VA causing lengthy delays for appointments and prescriptions for veterans.
“The EHR rollout, … has been very frustrating, very disruptive, and even dangerous for some patients,” Murray said.
Both lawmakers appear to be in lockstep sharing similar statements about the disruption it’s creating for veterans in Eastern Washington.
McMorris Rodgers called for a review of this back in early 2021.
In February, the Congresswoman called for the immediate delay of the EHR to the Walla Walla VA Medical Center until the issues with the system were resolved.
In March, that same system crashed disabling the Spokane VA for an entire day.
Just last week, the congresswoman met with Dr. Fischer as a follow-up to these concerns.