VA hospitals move to replace personnel called to the gulf PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN


Because of the massive mobilization of military reservists, the Department of Veterans Affairs is scrambling to replace medical specialists called up for Operation Desert Storm.

VA hospitals in Baltimore and across the country have been hurt by the call-up, the department said yesterday in Washington.

Barbara Gallagher, director of the 184-bed Veterans Administration Medical Center in Baltimore, said her facility has lost six registered nurses and a doctor.

Gallagher didn't know how many nurses and doctors employed by the facility are on active or inactive reserve.

The 1,000-employee facility will complete a report next week that details the number of reservists on the staff and what their status is, a spokesman said.

More than 20 volunteers, many of them former nurses, have offered their services to the facility, Gallagher said. The center also is prepared to air public service announcements on television if the need to recruit nurses becomes more pressing.

To cope with staff losses, the hospital has contacted other medical facilities in the city, forging relations with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital and with local eye clinics, burn units and shock-trauma treatment centers, Gallagher said.

The center has a large psychiatric unit to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. It will use gynecological and obstetrics services at University for female soldiers.

"We are absolutely ready for whatever may occur," Gallagher said.

She said she also has "great concern" about the care of the

indigent because 17 percent of the hospital's acute care cases are indigents with non-service-related illnesses.

Although the VA will defer the care of non-emergency cases that aren't related to military service, emergency cases will be taken care of either within the VA system or by the private sector, said James Holsinger, the VA's chief medical director.

As of Friday, 1,886 people -- 1 percent of the VA's health-care work force -- have been sent to the Persian Gulf, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski said. About 195 physicians and 735 nurses within the VA system have been called up since August, he said.

The system has about 12,500 reservists among its personnel, of which about 1,000 are doctors and 2,300 are nurses, spokesman Bonner Day said. The losses are "manageable" so far, Derwinski said.

Operation Desert Storm is the first test of a contingency plan crafted in the mid-1980s by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments whereby the VA will serve as a back-up to military hospitals.

"For the first time in VA history, the VA is involved at the time of the war," Derwinski said. "We're essential to the military. This could be our finest hour if we do our job right."

Under the plan, the VA has designated 80 of its 172 hospitals as primary-care facilities and 79 other hospitals are secondary support centers. The Baltimore center will serve as a primary back-up facility for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda.

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