Lawmakers question Topeka VA staffing shortage

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State and federal lawmakers want to know what caused a doctor shortage at Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka that has led to patients sometimes being diverted to other hospitals’ emergency rooms.

For the last three months, the hospital has been deciding in mid-afternoon every day whether enough doctors are available to staff the emergency room overnight. If not, patients are diverted to other hospitals, The Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/176UPnz ) reported.

Hospital spokesman Jim Gleisberg said the shortage happened because three doctors left at the same time but the hospital hopes to be fully staffed by September.

The shortage caught the notice of U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, and two state representatives.

“While I’m relieved to hear the VA has taken steps to address the shortage and will be returning to a regular ER schedule in a few weeks, I am not comfortable with the response I received for the reason three doctors left simultaneously,” Jenkins said by email. “I sent a letter to the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shinseki, to ask for a more complete response. While turnover in any business is to be expected, mass departures are uncommon without extenuating circumstances.”

State Rep. Ramon Gonzalez, R-Perry, and Rep. Virgil Weigel, D-Topeka, who both serve on the Kansas House Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee, also questioned the doctor shortage.

“The staffing at the VA probably does fluctuate,” Weigel said. “But that does seem a little out of character for all of them to leave at the same time.”

Gleisberg said five medical doctors have left the facility in the past 12 months and the VA is “always looking for doctors and nurses.”

The VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System includes Colmery-O’Neil, another large hospital in Leavenworth and 11 smaller facilities.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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