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Cost Reductions : Sepulveda VA Phasing Out Its Drug Unit

Times Staff Writer

The Veterans Administration Medical Center in Sepulveda will begin phasing out its 30-bed drug-treatment unit in January as part of a $3.2-million cost-reduction program, hospital officials announced Wednesday.

The VA hospital also will begin next month reducing beds at its nursing home care unit for elderly veterans, officials said. The hospital’s goal is to eliminate 42 of the unit’s 200 beds as patients are discharged, officials said.

Officials also said strict income guidelines will be instituted next month to limit the number of veterans who receive free medical care.

But despite the closure of the drug-treatment unit, there will be little disruption of services, officials predicted. Once the unit is phased out, patients needing treatment for abuse of drugs will be enrolled in the hospital’s detoxification program, officials said.

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Dr. Arthur Kling, the Sepulveda hospital’s chief of psychiatric services, said he believes the combined program will be able to handle all of the hospital’s substance-abuse patients. But if that proves impossible, patients will be referred to other San Fernando Valley inpatient drug-treatment programs or to the substance abuse treatment unit at West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, he said.

Rehabilitation Services

That unit offers alcohol and drug abusers rehabilitation services such as counseling and group therapy. A patient’s average stay in the hospital program was 18 days in 1988, officials said. The program averaged about 14 patients a day and served 420 people this year, they said.

The 30-bed detoxification unit hospitalizes veterans with severe alcohol problems for 10 to 14 days, Kling said. The program has served 850 patients this year, officials said.

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The substance-abuse unit will not close until all enrolled veterans complete treatment, said Rocco Bellatoni, spokesman for the Sepulveda hospital. The unit will continue admitting patients through the end of the month.

The hospital’s nursing home care unit rehabilitates elderly veterans so they can return home. It averaged 180 patients a day in 1988, officials said.

Along with the nation’s 172 other VA hospitals, the Sepulveda facility will use income guidelines to restrict medical services to veterans seeking care for non-service-connected illnesses or injuries.

Single veterans with incomes of more than $15,833 and married veterans with incomes of more than $24,274 will no longer receive such care, except in medical emergencies, Bellatoni said.

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The measures at the Sepulveda hospital are part of a nationwide cost-cutting program aimed at reducing a $1-billion VA deficit, said Donald Smith, a spokesman in Washington for the VA.

The shortfall was created when Congress added more VA services but did not provide funds to pay for them, Smith said. Some of the new VA programs include dental care for former prisoners of war, AIDS-prevention counseling and increased outpatient psychological services, he said.

If Congress had not added the programs, the VA’s $30.1-billion 1989 budget would have been sufficient to continue services at current levels, Smith said. If Congress approves a VA request for additional money next year, services will be restored, he said.


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