With ongoing staffing shortages of doctors, nurses, and ancillary services personnel, the VA Black Hills Health Care System hospital in Hot Springs has decided to shorten its urgent care clinic hours of operation.
According to a news release, the Hot Springs Urgent Care clinic will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday starting Nov. 4.
The urgent care clinic in Hot Springs has been open 24 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. Urgent care, to be used to treat non-life threatening health issues that can’t wait for a patient’s regular provider, will also follow the same schedule as primary care and close on federal holidays.
The change does not apply to the VA Black Hills Health Care System hospital at Fort Meade, which maintains a 24/7/365 emergency department.
Enrolled veterans received notification of the Hot Springs Urgent Care change of hours of operation in a letter dated Oct. 21.
Continued difficulties in hiring and retaining qualified physicians, nurses and ancillary services, such as laboratory and radiology services, made the reduction of hours a necessity, Sandra Horsman, VA Black Hills Health Care System Director, said Thursday in the news release.
The VA hired a recruiter, offered recruitment incentives and brought in traveling nurses in a bid to fill the void, she said.
“It’s not enough to just put nurses or hospitalists in the seat. You’ve got to have time to train them and then evaluate their competencies. They need time to get used to the processes, and the types of veteran and medical issues that come in,” Horsman said.
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Horsman said competition for staffing is keen in the Southern Hills, with the Fall River County Hospital, a Regional Health clinic and the State Veteran’s Home all in need of nurses.
“That’s a lot of skilled nursing requirement for a small community in comparison,” she said.
Horsman said veterans should not hesitate to go to the emergency department.
“If this is a life-threatening event, veterans need to get to their local emergency departments,” she said. “It is especially important now, because they are used to coming to the Urgent Care as an emergency room.
“We encourage veterans to use our call center for health-related questions and triage at 1-877-339-6837 and same day access in primary care and mental health, and during a medical emergency, seek immediate medical attention without delay,” she said.
The letter sent to veterans explained that they do not need to check with the VA before calling for an ambulance or going to an emergency department. A claim for emergency care will never be denied based solely on VA not receiving notification prior to seeking care, the press release said.
An Emergency Room notification can be made by calling VA Black Hills Health Care System at 605-745-2000.
Late Thursday, U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) issued a statement voicing his concern with the VA decision to scale back urgent care hours at the VA Hot Springs Center in a letter to Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 23 Director Robert McDivitt.
“This morning I was surprised and discouraged to hear of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) decision to reduce urgent care services at the VA Hot Springs Campus in the Black Hills Health Care System," Johnson said. "Additionally, I was disappointed by the lack of dialogue with the Congressional delegation on this important state interest."
"As you know, it is common practice for urgent care centers to operate seven days a week. I respectfully request a meeting with your office on the VA’s efforts to recruit health care staff in the Black Hills Health Care System and urge the VA to work expeditiously to restore this important service to the local veteran community," Johnson said.