Increase surgeries at VA hospital, Udall urges

Sen. Mark Udall

Despite the passage of nearly two years and completion of a $14.5 million upgrade to the surgical unit at Grand Junction Veteran Affairs Medical Center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has not re-authorized the center to perform surgeries of “intermediate” complexity.

According to U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., the surgical unit’s designation was downgraded from “intermediate” to “standard” in 2011 after an internal study showed increased infection rates among patients.

A review of the study determined the increased rates were a “statistical anomaly.” The VA subsequently promised the center would again offer surgical procedures of intermediate complexity within two years, Udall wrote in a Sept. 13 letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki.

Upgrades to the surgical unit completed in the past two years include the addition of four operating rooms, an intensive care unit and a sterilization-processing room.

“When fully operational, this state of the art surgery suite will vastly expand the capability of skilled VA surgeons to serve the growing rural veteran population in western Colorado and eastern Utah,” Udall wrote.

“We owe it to our veterans who have already sacrificed so much for our country to ensure that they have access to quality health care and do not have to travel hundreds of miles for medical procedures. But because of a technicality which the Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged, the Grand Junction VA Medical Center is unable to perform critical surgical procedures,” Udall said in a news release.

“I am calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs today to cut through the red tape and allow the Grand Junction VA Medical Center to better serve Western Slope veterans,” he said.

In response to the senator’s letter, Grand Junction VA Medical Center spokesman Paul Sweeney said, “Because the letter was addressed personally to the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I do not have the authority to speak on behalf of the secretary. ... Only the Office of Public Affairs in Washington has that authority.”

Officials at the Office of Public Affairs were unavailable for comment until Monday, a spokesman for the office said.


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