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VA officials say rating drop will not affect care

SANTA FE, N.M. — Officials at Albuquerque’s Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center say the facility’s recently lowered complexity rating will not affect care received by veterans there.

The facility was identified as a 1B facility, down from the highest possible complexity rating of 1A, last year.

“Current employees and veterans will see no difference whatsoever,” said Sonja Brown, associate director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System. “These internal classifications exist solely for the purpose of categorizing VA medical centers according to how complex they are to manage.”

VA press secretary Curt Cashour said complexity ratings are determined every three years through several criteria, including research dollars, complexity of care available, mental health capabilities and others.

Medical center director Andrew Welch said the rating does not affect funding received by the hospital.

Welch attributed the lower rating to the stable number of veterans served by the hospital – around 60,000 – and the loss of the medical center’s neurosurgery department roughly a year-and-a-half ago.

The neurosurgery gap is being filled by a partnership with the University of New Mexico Hospital, but Welch said they are working to bring back the department.

“The difficulty is across the country and especially in New Mexico, neurosurgeons are one of the most difficult specialties to recruit,” Welch said.

Brown said materials associated with the rating are not yet available for release.

Mitchell Lawrence, director of the state Department of Veterans Services Healthcare Coordination Division, said a lowered complexity rating could indicate a variety of things.

“One way of looking at it is we could potentially have a healthier population of veterans that don’t need that 1A level of care,” he said.

Lawrence said a neurosurgery department is certainly a mark of a complex hospital.

But if a specialist isn’t seeing much time in the operating room, it may serve them to move to a place with more work.

“Keeping highly specialized providers at facilities that are not seeing the type of cases to support that specialty could be detrimental to that provider,” he said.