Newveterans doctor in Alamosa stepping down
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.