Local veterans petitioning against potential changes to VA Eastern Kansas medical services

Local News

TOPEKA (KSNT) – The CEO and Director of VA Eastern Kansas, Rudy Kopfler, is considering shutting down the hospital’s emergency department and turning it into an urgent care center.

The change would mainly impact the hours it was open; potentially cutting the hours in half from 24/7 to 12 hours during the week and up to 18 hours on the weekends.

Kansas veterans stood outside the VA Thursday gathering signatures for their petition; nervous a change like this would impact veterans and their ability to get help.

“It’s wrong. The need is here for them to stay,” Vietnam veteran John Akin said during Thursday’s petition.

Akin believes the change would make accessing quality health care for veterans like himself more difficult.

“Veterans come from east of here, south, west, and they can come from quite a ways west for the services here,” Akin said. “But if you take this away that just makes them go even further.”

Klopfer said the hospital has seen an average of one to two veterans from late at night to the early morning and thinks the tax dollars that keep them in business could be utilized better elsewhere.

“As we looked over access, we looked over cost, we looked over quality, there was a time from late in the evening until early in the evening where we didn’t have very many veterans coming to see us,” Klopfer said.

Veterans petitioning against the change say they’re worried the type of services veterans can get will change forcing them to go to other VA’s for help. Supporter David Peralta said he started working with veterans when he was 17, and doesn’t want to see them having to make any more sacrifices.

“They shouldn’t have to drive to Leavenworth or Wichita to get their services. They shouldn’t have to struggle to get their prescriptions, to get the necessary care,” Peralta said. “Because they’ve suffered so much.”

Klopfer said not only would the services stay the same, but he also said the redistribution of money will add more services in departments like oncology, optometry, and audiology.

The CEO said the current emergency department looks to local hospitals for emergency situations like heart attacks and that the change to an urgent care center wouldn’t impact the type of services veterans can receive.

“We don’t handle that type of intensive service here and we would work with the community if a veteran came in to be able to get them to the highest quality care that they need to be having,” Klopfer said.

His recommendation to get rid of the ER is just a recommendation as of Thursday evening, nothing is set in stone.

The proposal would have to pass through regional and national approval first, which Klopfer said would happen at the very earliest, late 2021.

The group’s petition can be found here.

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