About 10 anesthesia department workers at the VA Medical Center in Omaha are without work because the VA’s operating rooms are closed for repairs, and five others now are working temporarily at the VA.
Those 15 workers’ status is uncertain even after the operating rooms are reopened, possibly early next month. The VA had contracted for the anesthesia team with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Marci Mylan, director of the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System, declined to say whether she would simply bring the team back to the VA when the operating rooms are running again.
“I don’t want to speculate,” Mylan said. “We will need a full complement of anesthesia services when we bring our operating rooms back up in-house.”
UNMC’s senior associate dean for clinical affairs, Dr. Carl Smith, said UNMC didn’t have openings for the 15 employees at such short notice. Smith said the VA told UNMC on March 21 that there might be a “downscoping” of anesthesia services. Then VA officials told UNMC on March 28 that they would no longer need the employees beginning April 1, Smith said.
The university will absorb three anesthesiologists — physicians — who worked in the VA anesthesia department, Smith said.
Smith said the 15 in question include 12 certified registered nurse anesthetists, two anesthesia technicians and one nurse practitioner.
Mylan said she hopes the operating rooms will reopen in early May. The seven operating rooms have had unusual problems with their humidifiers, Mylan said, and experts must diagnose and fix the problem.
Jim Sorrell, chief nurse anesthetist on the VA team, said UNMC has terminated the 15 workers’ contracts. Further, Sorrell said, VA administrators have said nothing about resuming the contract with UNMC for anesthesia workers.
Smith said in an email Friday evening that when the VA operating rooms are functioning again, “it is possible that some of these employees will be employed directly by the VA. In fact we truly hope that this will happen. These were dedicated employees that provided superb anesthesia care to veterans.”
Sorrell, 67, said he has worked for the VA for 39 years. Sorrell, who is among those working temporarily to maintain a level of anesthesia service at the VA, said it’s a good hospital with fine workers who provide excellent service to patients.
“I feel terrible for the younger people who have had their lives turned upside down,” Sorrell said.
He said some at the VA believe Mylan, who came to this VA system from the Minneapolis VA more than a year ago, wants more VA-employed workers and fewer workers contracted out to the VA by other institutions.
Mylan said she was happy with the contracted workers’ performance and happy with UNMC. She denied that the uncertainty over the future of the old anesthesia team has anything to do with preferring in-house employees to contracted workers. This issue involves the fact that the operating rooms are closed, she said.
She said the steam system that feeds the humidifiers appears to be a culprit. Parts needed for the broken humidifiers have been manufactured quickly, she said, and work on fixing the overall problem has gone smoothly. But the VA continues to prepare to lease operating room space from other hospitals, she said, if repairs stretch out or complications occur.
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