3 VA medical centers merge offices Up to 250 positions to be cut by attrition; little impact on patients


Maryland's three Veterans Affairs Medical Centers have merged management to save money and improve patient care, but they still must cut up to 250 jobs because of federal budget pressures, VA officials said yesterday.

Veterans won't notice many changes right away as a result of the merger. The centers will remain where they are in downtown Baltimore, Fort Howard and Perry Point in Cecil County.

But, over time, elimination of duplicative administration will enable the VA to "redirect resources to patient care," said Dennis H. Smith, director of the consolidated VA Maryland Health Care System.

In the meantime, the 3,100-employee system will have to absorb the loss of 200 to 250 jobs.

The cuts, which Mr. Smith said he expects to make by not filling vacancies, will be needed to stay within his 1996 budget, which is not going to increase despite rising expenses.

Mr. Smith has already been cutting posts in the course of combining management of the centers. "Our goal is to reduce the number of supervisors we have," he said.

By reorganizing some services, the VA can achieve other savings. Mr. Smith said integration of laboratory work will result in the elimination by attrition of 12 jobs and a payroll reduction of more than $900,000.

But no one is being laid off as a result of the merger, said Mr. Smith, 49, who grew up in Towson and is returning to this area after five years as chief of staff to the VA's undersecretary for health.

Explaining what led to the merger, Mr. Smith noted that private hospitals in Maryland have been merging and forming alliances to cut costs, improve service and increase competitiveness. "In the past, each VA hospital was independent and provided the complete continuum of care," he said. "Now, in today's health environment, we can't afford to do that."

The Maryland system has 1,008 beds. Each center will continue its current specialty, with Baltimore performing surgeries, Fort Howard providing long-term rehabilitation and Perry Point emphasizing long-term psychiatric care.

Another 120 beds will become available in June with the opening of a new rehabilitation and extended care center on the site of the old VA hospital on Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore.

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