Service changes at Salisbury VA hospital delayed

In a release sent Thursday, Peake recommended the VA department build health care centers in Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

He also said, once the health care centers in Winston-Salem and Charlotte are open, inpatient care should be moved from the Salisbury VA hospital to local, private health care providers.

The VA would review services at Salisbury VA hospital "for opportunities to enhance its scope of providing health services and to become a center of excellence in both long-term care and mental health care," the release said.

"It's important VA provides veterans with state-of-the-art health care technologies in contemporary facilities," Peake said in the release. "As we move forward, this plan will provide enhanced care for our veterans in North Carolina."

William Feeley, the undersecretary for health operations and management, and hospital administrator Carolyn Adams will hold a press conference Friday at 11 a.m. to explain the proposed changes.

In October, hospital officials announced the VA would close the inpatient beds, surgery services and the emergency department at the Salisbury VA hospital and contract out those services to local private-sector hospitals.

Officials gave no timeline for the change, but veterans groups and the American Federation of Government Employees decried the move, saying it was a step toward privatization of veterans medical care.

J. David Cox, national secretary-treasurer of the AFGE and a Kannapolis native, said Peake's announcement is "more of the same, with a new timeline."

"They will take care to the private sector and make all these rules that so you're not eligible for care and you'll be standing outside the hospital," Cox, a former Salisbury VA hospital employee, said. "A veteran goes to a VA hospital, they are always accepted and treated."

In a letter to VA employees, Adams said the health care centers in Winston-Salem and Charlotte would provide all the clinical services, except inpatient and emergency department services.

She also said expanding the Hickory clinic would still move forward. That expansion should be completed by 2010.

Veterans in western North Carolina, including Cabarrus County, use the Salisbury VA hospital for their health care services.

Veterans groups have staged at least two protests in as many months to voice their opposition to the proposed changes.

In October, veterans with Rolling Thunder attempted to do a protest ride through the VA hospital property but were turned away at the gate.

VA Police cited federal rules prohibiting any form of protest on VA property.

In November, veterans picketed on Brenner Avenue, outside the hospital entrance.

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