New legislation would keep veterans needing surgery closer to home
Senate Bill 269, sponsored by Sen. George Bunting (D-Bethany Beach), Sen. Patricia Blevins, Rep. Terry Spence and Rep. John Kowalko, would address a shortage of surgeons that currently exists at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Elsmere, which is resulting in Delaware veterans being referred to Maryland and Pennsylvania VA facilities for some surgical procedures.
â€œThere are a number of retired surgeons that have offered to do work at the VA hospital, but there is a clause in the medical malpractice insurance contracts of retired doctors that causes them to lose their coverage for past acts of medical malpractice if they come out of retirement to work as surgeons at the VA hospital,â€? Commissioner Denn said.Â â€œThis bill would eliminate that insurance barrier and allowed retired surgeons to provide critically needed surgical services to Delaware veterans.â€?
â€œThe veterans who have so nobly served our country ought to be able to get the surgical services they need at the VA hospital in our state, which is in my district,â€? Sen. Blevins said.Â â€œThis hospital serves as a medical home for veterans all over the state. Itâ€™s the place where they are familiar and feel comfortable and want to support their ability to stay here.â€?
â€œThis legislation is going to help us a lot â€“ help us to recruit the doctors we need to treat veterans, help us reduce waiting time for critical procedures, and help us reduce the number of referrals we have to make outside of Delaware,â€? said Dr. Dennis Witmer, who is head of surgery at the Elsmere VA hospital and initially alerted Commissioner Denn to the issue.Â â€œCurrently, we even have some veterans who will choose not to get a procedure because of the travel time to another hospital and thatâ€™s not a good thing.â€?
â€œFollow-up care is also extremely important but one issue for any veteran is travel time. Unfortunately, some folks â€“ because of travel time â€“ donâ€™t follow up with care and that interrupts their whole healing process,â€? Sen. Bunting said.Â â€œI want to thank Dr. Witmer for bringing this issue to our attention and Commissioner Denn for working to address it.â€?
â€œWith the aging veterans population, it is important to not have to make them and their families travel to other hospitals. If we can bring surgeons out of retirement, it will make it much easier on them,â€? Delaware Veterans Commission executive director Tony Davila said.Â â€œItâ€™s very necessary to provide these services here in Delaware.â€?
The insurance barrier addressed by the legislation is a clause in the medical malpractice insurance contracts of retired doctors that causes them to lose their â€œtail coverageâ€? for past acts of medical malpractice if they come out of retirement to work as surgeons at the VA hospital.
The bill only addresses doctors working at the VA hospital.Â According to Dr. Witmer, more than 1,200 major surgeries a year are performed at the Elsmere VA hospital, a number he said that could increase â€œsignificantlyâ€? with the passage of SB 269 and the recruitment of more surgeons.