Oklahoma's VA hospitals not likely affected by restructuring

Friday, June 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's two VA hospitals should not be adversely affected by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs proposals to restructure the system, including closing some facilities, officials said Thursday.

``We're very early in the process and we want to let this process have an opportunity to work,'' said Mario Rossilli, spokesman for the South Central VA Health Care Network that includes Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has a VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City and a smaller center in Muskogee.

Steven J. Gentling, administrator for the Oklahoma City health care facility, said Thursday that Oklahoma City is a key medical center in the VA system.

``While they'll look at areas to make more efficient, I don't see an impact here. If anything, there will be an increase in services,'' Gentling said.

According to the latest census data, 376,062 veterans lived in Oklahoma in 2000 compared with 377,148 in 1990.

The Oklahoma City medical center is a referring hospital, or a larger facility that accepts patients who need specialty services from smaller facilities like those in Muskogee and Amarillo, Texas.

Gentling said the facility has 169 beds, with a 90 percent occupancy rate. He said the center has about 6,000 admissions a year.

At Muskogee's VA Hospital, the VA's shift from inpatient to outpatient care has been successful for five years, spokeswoman Nita McClellan said.

The Muskogee facility has seen a 23 percent increase in outpatient care among McAlester, Muskogee and Tulsa clients since the emphasis began, she said.

``By focusing on preventive care, we will be able to keep the veterans out of the hospital,'' McClellan said.

The Muskogee facility has 50 beds, with an average occupancy rate of 88 percent. McClellan said the center had 2,273 admissions in its 2001 fiscal year.

The Oklahoma City center already treats about 275,000 patients a year on an outpatient basis. The Muskogee center recorded 214,259 outpatient visits in the 2001 fiscal year.

Rossilli said the two Oklahoma medical centers are among 10 such centers in the VA's south central network, including facilities in Biloxi, Miss.; Jackson, Miss.; New Orleans; Fayetteville, Ark.; Little Rock, Ark.; Houston; Shreveport, La.; and Alexandria, La.

He added that the veterans groups and other ``stakeholders'' in the health care system's success will be invited to participate as the plan takes shape.

``The whole goal is to try to improve our services to veterans, for us to be better stewards and make good use of all our resources,'' Rossilli said.