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Manchester VA Task Force Takes Shape

Peter Biello
Michael Mayo-Smith, director of the VA New Engalnd Healthcare System, is putting together a task force looking at the future of the Manchester VA.

A task force created to look at the future of the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center is taking shape. 

The task force was formed in response to whistleblower allegations of unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the medical center. Whistleblower Erik Funk, a cardiologist, was invited to serve on the task force - but he is the only one.

"The fact that they had not invited any other whistleblower speaks to the fact that this may be dominated more by the VISN," Funk says. VISN, or Veterans Integrated Service Network, refers to the VA New England Healthcare System, also known as VISN 1. Whistleblowers say that group does not have as close a connection to the Manchester VA as they do.

VA doctor Ed Kois, another of the whistleblowers, says he'd like to see more of his group on the task force.

"This committee is going to be key on whether we have a full-service hospital and a new building or not. It's key that the people on the committee have an interest in New Hampshire," he says.

The Manchester VA is not considered full-service because it doesn't offer in-patient care or services offered by other VA hospitals, such as the one in White River Junction, Vermont.

Michael Mayo-Smith, director of the New England VA system, says veterans' healthcare in New Hampshire could take one of many forms in the future: a free-standing hospital, partnerships with private hospitals or increased services at existing facilities.

Kois says the best option would be a new facility that provides full services. "Whether those full services are all done at that hospital or done with community relationships with other hospitals is the real issue," he says.

Some whistleblowers had hoped that Dr. Stewart Levenson, one of the dozen who first raised concerns for patient safety, would be a member of the panel, but Mayo-Smith declined to invite him, citing the need for all task force members to be VA employees. Levenson left the VA earlier this summer.

A spokesperson for the New England VA system says membership of the task force has not yet been finalized.

A report by the task force due by January 1, 2018.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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