Officials at the Bath VA Medical Center plan to eliminate the facility's emergency room and intensive care unit effective Jan. 14, 2014, but they say the changes will ultimately be positive.
Medical Center Director Michael Swartz said the changes are the result of declining use of emergency services at the facility.
"We've studied the last three years of usage of our emergency room, and on average, the usage was dropping about five to seven percent each year," Swartz said.
He said the visits the ER was getting were also increasingly for non-emergency services.
Those needs can largely be filled by an urgent care center that will take the place of the facility's emergency room.
The urgent care center will be open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week year-round.
Chief of Staff Dr. Felipe Diaz said the facility is no longer a destination for critically ill emergency patients who need ambulance service.
"Critically ill patients have not been brought to our ER for more than a year," Diaz said.
VA patients with life-threatening illnesses or injuries will be required to call 911 or visit a neighboring community hospital, like Bath's Ira Davenport Memorial.
Care for genuine life-threatening needs will be reimbursed to the providing hospital by the VA.
Decisions about reimbursement will be evaluated by VA officials.
"They would evaluate the ER visit, if it's truly an emergency, or what a layperson would think is an emergent need, then that is covered," Diaz said.
Veterans who use a hospital emergency room for a life-threatening situation should call (800) 396-7929 within 72 hours after the visit to discuss reimbursement for the hospital.
If the hospital determines a patient needs to be admitted, they can contact the VA Medical Center to determine if the patient can be admitted to the Bath VA's inpatient care facility.
"This is a transition from emergency room to urgent care, our inpatient ward is still open and will continue to function as before," Diaz said.
The Bath VA has mailed out 17,000 letters to veterans outlining the changes. Included is a Frequently Asked Questions list outlining much of the information above.
They've also been in contact with veteran service organizations to get the word out about the changes.
Swartz said veterans with questions about how to get their medical needs met should contact their primary care doctor to discuss their particular situation.
He said it was important for veterans to know that the changes are about better meeting patients' needs – not about saving money.
"This is not a budget issue," Swartz said. "We're going to take the savings from the emergency room and place that into primary care and expand other services. We really think this is a positive development for veterans in the Southern Tier."