Schumer & Higgins Say: Buffalo VA’s Careless Push to Privatize Effective Program is a Disservice to the Men & Women Who Served this Country
With the Veteran Affairs Western New York Healthcare System speeding up their effort to push veterans out of a successful and popular VA administered Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) Center, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) are teaming up to fight for the men and women who fought for us.
Schumer and Higgins argue that the Buffalo VA’s decision to privatize this care for our veterans does not save costs or improve care and the leaders are concerned that in Buffalo VA’s hasty move to outsource veteran care, they may have violated patient privacy laws by releasing personal medical information to a private company soliciting business from veterans.
“The VA is following up a bad decision to close a cost-effective and popular veterans clinic with even worse management,” said Senator Schumer. “Reports that veterans’ private health information may have been improperly shared with a health care company are disturbing and should be investigated. That is why we are asking HHS for a full and thorough investigation into these potential HIPPA violations, and we are again demanding the VA reverse its ill-considered decision to shut this vital clinic, which is such an important resource for our veterans.”
“If the handling of this situation is any measure of how the Buffalo VA intends to put cost above care moving forward, I fear for the future for our veterans,” said Congressman Higgins. “Instead of working to preserve this highly successful program that has been life-changing for all of the veteran’s we’ve spoken with, they are quick to show veterans the door, pushing them off to programs that don’t offer the same environment or services. It’s not right.”
Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins have spent weeks speaking with local veterans and families affected by this unnecessary and unjustified decision and have repeatedly urged the leadership of the Buffalo VA to reverse their decision to close the ADHC facility in Northtown Plaza in the Town of Amherst.
On August 14, 2018 Schumer wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie extolling the great services provided at the Western New York ADHC and calling for the program to continue. And on August 23, Higgins called on VA Regional Director Dr. Joan McInerney to intervene and reverse the decision made by Buffalo VA Interim Director Michael Swartz to shut the door on Western New York veterans.
Under the ADHC program administered by the Buffalo VA, veterans receive services ranging from physical and occupational therapy to health education and dementia care. The rehab services help to keep veterans in their homes and out of more expensive hospital care and the social programing provides camaraderie and support, particularly for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Schumer and Higgins are calling for a full investigation. In a letter (copy included below) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins write: “In the context of this closure, it has been conveyed to our offices directly by VA clients and through the media (WIVB-TV, August 27, 2018, transcript attached), that the VA WNY Healthcare System appears to have violated the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA , PL. 104-191).”
In the letter, Schumer and Higgins conclude: “We write today to bring this apparent violation of the law to the attention of the Office for Civil Rights in its capacity as the law enforcement agency responsible for HIPAA cases, and request that the agency pursue this matter as prescribed by its authorizing statutes.”
Veterans and families were originally given until October 1, 2018 to make alternate arrangements for ADHC services, but the Buffalo VA has since given families until August 31 to choose an alternate site.