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Mass exodus of acute care doctors at Tucson VA

Posted at 5:30 PM, Mar 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-16 08:06:25-04
A staffing crisis that's affecting some of the most vulnerable veterans at the Tucson VA hospital.
A credible source reveals to KGUN9 that the shortage of doctors is so severe that it could be putting thousands of seriously ill patients in harms way.
An insider describes the situation as "horrible."
KGUN9 uncovered this startling fact -- since 2009 most of of the 247 doctors who left the Tucson VA -- 188 doctors -- didn't even make it past 5 years. 33 doctors left in less than 6 months.
Health experts, including doctors, I've interviewed all agree it's a high turnover rate -- a red flag.
And now we've learned 6 of the physicians, or hospitalists as they're called, in acute care walked out the door over the past several months.
Former top administrator, Pat McCoy, describes the type of patients these physicians generally take care of -- "Patients with heart conditions, like heart attacks, or ruling out a heart attack, the patient might have pneumonia, urinary tract infections."
The reason for the mass exodus. 
An insider says two of the 6 physicians said they left because they "couldn't take it anymore" they were "burnt out and exhausted" from being "overworked and mistreated." 
All 6 doctors said they left because they felt like "second-class citizens, not respected and not appreciated." They felt there was "no administrative support" and "no communication."
What does Tucson VA leadership say about the doctor shortage?
Acting director Jennifer Gutowski has refused repeated requests for interviews, but in a recent news release addressing KGUN9's investigation, Gutowski cites simply a "staffing issue" in acute care. No details were given.
We've learned through the source there are now only 6 physicians -- about half of what is needed -- a critical shortage.
An insider says the vacant spots are covered by temporary doctors as well as specialists, like cardiologists, who tackle heart problems and are now having to treat patients with lung issues that the specialists haven't dealt with in 10 or 20 years.
Pat McCoy says that's not an ideal situation. "There's continuity of care issues. The new provider that's coming along has to learn about the patient. And things can potentially be missed."
The source says the staffing crisis is so severe that patients are being transferred to community hospitals several times a week.