Sound Off: Closing Navy ER costly, dangerous

I would like to make everyone aware of an injustice that is now taking place. I am an emergency room physician, and I work at two Navy hospitals that are closing their emergency rooms, and opening “Urgent Care” centers instead.

This will happen at the Navy Hospital in Oak Harbor and at the Cherry Point Navy Hospital in North Carolina on Oct. 1 of this year. The Navy claims that this is needed to save money. Nothing can be further from the truth. The closure of these facilities will cost all of us millions of dollars. Besides the fact that it is a life-threatening disservice to our military personnel.

First of all, since the closures have been announced, I have kept track of the many patients that would not be seen or treated at Urgent Care, and would otherwise be transferred to a civilian facility: minor trauma, motor vehicle accidents, young infants, cardiac patients, drunks, pregnant women, the list goes on.

In addition, anyone who shows up after business hours will also have to go to the nearest ER, regardless of their condition. At a civilian facility, each of these patient’s bills will easily exceed thousands of dollars, and will be paid by Tricare insurance. Tricare like Medicare is funded by all of us taxpayers. In a typical week, I see and treat many thousands of dollars worth of Tricare patients that would not be seen in Urgent Care. It costs very little to do so, compared to the huge costs of treating them elsewhere, not to mention the costs of ambulance transport.

The Navy is saving money for the Navy. That is true, and at first glance, how can we blame them? They have a war to run, and a budget to trim. They say they are doing this “all over” and unfortunately that is true. The cost then to all of us is exponential, and is easily several millions of dollars or more. The Navy is not looking at the overall expense to the American people, just the numbers they need to crunch.

But they are accountable to all of us. This is a misappropriation of tax dollars by a public entity and is illegal in these United States. Your money and tax dollars will pay for this, and any shortcomings will be added to the deficit. Think of our children. How can we allow huge chunks of debt to be piled on to them in this way, when we have the ability to stop it? Keeping the ER’s open will save millions of our hard earned tax dollars.

Finally, an even bigger tragedy is the human cost to our active duty service members, retirees and the many dependents who rely on these emergency rooms. After the Walter Reed fiasco, I cannot think of a greater disservice. We are not talking about dirty barracks here, we are talking about people’s lives.

These two Navy ER’s that are scheduled to close see over 40,000 patients annually. Not all of these patients can be seen or treated in an Urgent Care setting. My colleagues and I are emergency physicians, and our jobs are not in jeopardy. We are in high demand, yet most of us choose to work on base at a reduced wage because we are either veterans or retired military. We are trained in ATLS (advanced trauma life support). We are experts at keeping people alive, and unfortunately our services are occasionally needed.

There will continue to be accidents on these busy military bases, only now the ER will be closed! The injured will fall victim to what we call in trauma the Golden Hour. Both of these bases are far enough away from the closest civilian ER that the Golden Hour will expire before the patient can be saved. I pray that this does not happen to your son or daughter. So please, everyone who pays taxes or has a loved one in the military needs to speak out on this issue. Feel free to forward this letter to your congressman, or better yet, write one from your own perspective. Keep the emergency rooms open, and God Bless America.

Dr. Grant Schmidt is a Navy hospital emergency room physician.

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