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Salisbury VA begins meetings on plan to reduce services

The VA Medical Center in Salisbury has begun town hall meetings to drum up veteran support for a plan to eliminate emergency room and acute services the hospital in 2013. The Department of Veterans Affairs originally planned to shut the ER at the Salisbury Hospital last year, but outrage from patients and employees pushed the change back to 2013. Meantime, hospital administrators are working to convince veterans it will be a positive change, since they'll be treated at private hospitals closer to home. But patients worry they'll have to wait longer and get less personal care in a private ER. Members of the hospital employees union are also critical, and President Essie Hogue says many are already leaving. "Some of our ER doctors have left," says Hogue, a nurse at the Salisbury VA hospital. "Some of the acute care doctors have left. Surgeons have left. And the nurses are putting in for jobs in Durham and other places where they can get acute care experience." Hogue says the departures could make it easier for the hospital to justify implementing the changes earlier than 2013. VA officials say they will wait until new services are added at clinics in Winston Salem and Charlotte to make any cuts at the Salisbury hospital. They will hold a town hall meeting for veterans tonight (Tuesday) at 6:30 p.m. at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory and in Salisbury on March 30th.