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US Senators cancel commission looking to realign VA, close Hot Springs facility

Rounds VA hotsprings.jpg
Lee Strubinger
/
SDPB
Left to right: Don Ackerman and Patrick Russell with Save The VA, U.S. Senator Mike Rounds and Hot Springs Mayor Bob Nelson at steps outside of the Hot Springs VA facility to announce the AIR commission will not convene to issue a recommendation

The VA Hospital facility in Hot Springs will remain open for the time being. That’s because a congressional proposal to streamline healthcare facilities nationwide is on hold for now.

A presidential commission looking at Asset and Infrastructure Review —or AIR—was considering moving VA medical center services from Hot Springs to Rapid City. Those programs include inpatient and outpatient care, nursing home and rehabilitation services.

The AIR Commission is designed to modernize and streamline healthcare delivery.

A group of bi-partisan senators are choosing not to confirm appointees to the commission. U.S. Senator Mike Rounds says that means the commission will expire and not have enough time to review recommendations.

“That would have closed, not just facilities here at Hot Springs. It would have significantly reduced facilities in Sturgis. It would have shut down, in Wagner, South Dakota, the clinic there. it would have taken out the emergency room in Sioux Falls,” Rounds says. “Those types of activities, now, will not happen based on an AIR committee report.”

Rounds says the VA can still expand services in Rapid City. He says the VA must recognize the need to not shut down rural facilities.

The Hot Springs VA has been on the chopping block since 2011. Patrick Russell is with a Hot Springs group called ‘Save The VA.’

“I feel that it is necessary to maintain the services—build the services—to provide our veterans the care they were promised,” Russell says. “The mission of the VA is to care for those who have born the battle. That is what they should be doing.”

Russell worries the VA will scale back the quality of care over the next several years.

The VA Black Hills Healthcare System did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.