Newvet­er­ans doc­tor in Alam­osa step­ping down

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By David Olinger David Olinger: 303- 954- 1498, dolinger@ den­ver­post. com or @ dolingerdp

The San LuisVal­ley vet­er­an­swhowaited five months for a doc­tor in 2015 will watch him leave in 2016.

Dr. Robert Rice, the physi­cian hired in Septem­ber to serve about 5,000 veter­ans in the Alam­osa re­gion, has re­signed, the Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs con­firmed Thurs­day. His last day is Jan. 11.

“We are de­stroyed. Fe­male veter­ans are dev­as­tated. They fi­nally had a doc­tor they were com­fort­able with,” said Richard Na­gley, a veter­ans’ coali­tion leader in the San Luis Val­ley.

He called Rice a ter­rific doc­tor who tried to han­dle an over­whelm­ing caseload by him­self.

“He’s al­most like an old­time doc­tor who used to do house calls,” Na­gley said. “He is work­ing any­where from 9 to 11 o’clock at night just to keep up.”

VA of­fi­cials of­fered as­sur­ances that veter­ans in the val­ley will not go with­out a doc­tor’s care.

Nathan Nid­if­fer, the VA’s re­gional man­ager for southern Colorado, said a doc­tor in its in­terim staffing pro­gram has agreed to go to Alam­osa full time for two months, and the agency hopes to hire a physi­cian’s as­sis­tant this month aswell.

He said the agency will be re­cruit­ing a new doc­tor in the mean­time.

Rice could not be reached for com­ment Thurs­day.

Nid­if­fer said he and Rice dis­cussed the doc­tor’s rea­sons for leav­ing sev­eral times. “I think the­work­load,” Nid­if­fer said, and “want­ing to spend a lit­tle more time with his wife and his dogs.”

VAof­fi­cials also said Alam­osa veter­ans need­ing a doc­tor can use the new Choice pro­gram to go out­side the agency and seek help at the San Luis Val­ley Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter, a lo­cal hos­pi­tal.

Rice­was hired in Septem­ber af­ter months of com­plaints from veter­ans driv­ing as far as Den­ver to see a doc­tor.

Colorado’s U. S. sen­a­tors, Michael Ben­net and Cory Gard­ner, andU. S. Rep. Scott Tip­ton sent a let­ter to VA Sec­re­taryRobertMcDon­ald urg­ing bet­ter health care for veter­ans in the val­ley.

“It is past time to come to a long- term so­lu­tion for San Luis Val­ley veter­ans that en­ables them to meet the ma­jor­ity of their health and be­hav­ior health care needs with­out hav­ing to make the 466- mile round trip to the Den­ver VA Med­i­cal Cen­ter,” they wrote. “San Luis Val­ley veter­ans have been ex­ceed­ingly pa­tient through­out this process.”

Na­gley said the Choice pro­gram is an op­tion but ques­tioned whether it can solve the veter­ans’ doc­tor short­age. “If they all had a Choice card, the prob­lemjust goes to the hos­pi­tal,” he said.

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