Van Zandt to cease 24-hour ER service

The Van Zandt VA Medical Center is set to close its intensive care unit next month and transition its 24-hour emergency department into a 12-hour urgent care center, hospital representatives announced Wednesday.

The shift, slated for April 21, will eliminate the four-bed unit, which allows for constant, close monitoring of patients with severe illnesses and injuries, according to a press release and comments by center spokeswoman Andrea Young. The urgent care center will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Young said.

An 18-month process, including input from Veterans Affairs officials in Washington, led to the decision, Young said. The unit has been hit by a gradual decline in use, especially during nighttime hours, with two patients using the emergency department on an average night.

That reduced use makes it harder for medical workers to get the practice they need, Young said.

“If you have a low number of people utilizing a service, it’s very hard for the clinical staff to maintain their clinical competency,” she said.

Her comments echoed those of Erie veterans officials, who in 2012 announced the closure of their hospital’s four-bed intensive care unit. At Erie, one of several veterans hospitals to wind down its emergency care, administrators cited declining use and difficulty maintaining medical skills.

Young said veterans hospitals throughout the country have transitioned to a model based less on emergency care, with teams of experts working to ensure patients’ broader health before serious illnesses or injuries strike. The hospital model nationwide is shifting toward outpatient, rather than inpatient, care, she said.

Medical staff working in the intensive care unit will be impacted, she said, with two planned nurse hirings likely to be canceled. Young said she doesn’t expect employees to lose their jobs.

The head of the center staff union, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1862, did not return a message seeking comment.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.