TOMAH, Wis. — The troubled Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center is making several changes related to its psychiatric and emergency services to address staffing shortages.
On Wednesday, the hospital's 11-bed inpatient psychiatric unit stopped admitting new patients and will temporarily close next week, the VA announced. The two patients who are currently in the unit likely will be discharged before the Sept. 4 closure, said VA spokesman Matthew Gowan.
In the meantime, any local veteran requiring psychiatric treatment will be transferred to VA facilities in Madison and Milwaukee, or to non-VA hospitals, the La Crosse Tribune reported.
Tomah VA Medical Center also plans to suspend psychiatric admissions to its residential long-term care facility, Community Living Center, until additional staff are hired. The nursing home will continue admitting veterans with non-psychiatric needs, Gowan said.
The moves at the Tomah VA Medical Center are intended to ensure the "safe, high-quality care" that veterans deserve, Interim Director John Rohrer said in a news release, adding that the psychiatric unit won't reopen until "we have the necessary psychiatric staff to do so safely."
"I do not make this decision lightly," he said.
In an effort to recruit the psychiatrists it needs, the Tomah facility has increased the starting salary to $240,000, which is the maximum amount allowed for a staff physician under the VA's pay scale.
Additionally, a temporary reduction in hours at the hospital's Urgent Care clinic will become permanent.
Over the past four months, the reduce hours of operation "indicates this permanent change in hours meets our veterans' needs," Rohrer said in the press release.
Rohrer dismisses the notion that bad publicity has led to the difficulty the Tomah VA is having with recruitment.
"I think that anyone that has read about the actions this facility has taken over the last five, six months or so would have to see that things are progressing in a right, honorable manner — that anyone would be proud to be associated with the Tomah VA," he said.
Rohrer added that other VA facilities across the nation also are "scrambling to find enough psychiatrists."