July 2, 2008

Marion VA Hospital Slowly Progressing

By Tesa Culli, Mt. Vernon Register-News, Ill.

Jul. 2--MT. VERNON -- Although the Veterans Medical Center in Marion hasn't yet resumed in-patient surgical procedures, the facility is expanding and getting everything in place toward that goal, according to acting director Warren Hill.

"Before we can do [in-patient] surgical procedures again, we need to have providers on station, infrastructure and equipment in place and space," Hill told members of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus' Veterans Advisory Committee. "At no time has a veteran gone without the procedures and care they needed. They have been sent to other VA facilities, or we have paid for their services in a local facility or in another area. ... As we go forward and as we wrap up this time, it's important that our veterans are taken care of and no one goes without."

In-patient surgeries at the Marion VA Medical Center were suspended after investigations into 29 deaths during fiscal year 2007 revealed that three of the deaths were the result of the facility not meeting standards of care. Low-risk outpatient surgical procedures were reinstated at the facility on May 8.

"More services will resume as we advance," Hill said. Hill told veterans one way they could help in the process is by speaking with doctors and nurses of their acquaintance.

"We have vacancies and we're aggressively looking at filling every one of the positions with quality people," Hill said, adding that a national employment firm has been contacted to help staff a surgical unit. "We have to proceed in a methodical, safe manner."

Shimkus said he and a delegation of lawmakers from Illinois spoke with the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. James B. Peake, last week.

"One thing we've discovered is what's happened in Marion will help the entire VA system," Shimkus said. "The institutional problems were finally identified, and steps can be taken to address the problems. These are problems not just confined to Marion, but across the nation."

Shimkus said the meeting with Peake was "pretty straightforward."

"Our frustration has been that things are moving too slow," Shimkus said. "His answer is that we want to do it right. You can't really argue with that. And getting a new administrator is a key aspect to moving forward."


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