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Monday, August 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

ER doctors remain elusive for Spokane VA

The Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center hasn’t made any progress in recruiting emergency room physicians and will continue to operate an urgent care facility for the foreseeable future.

The Veterans Affairs hospital worked with a national recruiter to find ER doctors willing to relocate to Spokane, but the yearlong effort didn’t result in any hires, Ron Johnson, the medical center’s director, said Monday.

Staffing issues forced the VA to close the ER in December 2014. Since then, the North Spokane facility has offered the urgent care clinic instead. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and operates using contract physicians.

Many local veterans appear to have adjusted to the urgent care center’s hours, Johnson said. The center sees 65 to 70 patients on weekdays and 15 to 20 per day on weekends.

“We’ve looked at the workload, and we’re only seeing three fewer patients per day,” he said.

However, since the VA is required to provide a 24-hour emergency department, the recruiting efforts will continue, Johnson said.

Over the past two years, the VA has hired 150 people to fill openings and expand services, but ER physicians remain hard to recruit, he said.

The VA needs seven doctors and a half-time physician to staff the emergency department. Nationally, there’s a shortage of ER doctors, and the VA’s limited services put it at a disadvantage in terms of recruitment, Johnson said.

The VA’s emergency department didn’t accept people with heart attacks, strokes or major trauma. Those patients were taken to other Spokane hospitals.

Most people who train as ER doctors want the opportunity to work on challenging cases and to do research, which the VA doesn’t offer either, Johnson said.

Other areas of patient care continue to expand, he said. In August, the VA will break ground on two new buildings: a $7.9 million outpatient mental health clinic and $10 million primary care clinic.

The VA has a 36-bed hospital and outpatient services, providing care to 31,000 veterans in Central and Eastern Washington, North Idaho and northwest Montana. About 1,050 people work at the VA in Spokane and community outpatient clinics in Wenatchee and Coeur d’Alene.

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