Cooper Hospital opens doors to vets, promising same-day primary care appointments

A new Cooper University Health Care program guarantees that southern New Jersey veterans will see a primary care doctor on the same day they make an appointment, starting July 1.

 

The program is designed to combat long wait times faced by veterans at VA hospitals in the area.

Hospital chairman George Norcross made the announcement Tuesday at the private Cooper Hospital in Camden. He estimated that 130,000 veterans live in the South New Jersey area.

“I hope we’re overwhelmed with phone calls,” said Norcross. “That means we’re making a difference.”

Norcross said that the Cooper system, which consists of 100 clinics in the South Jersey region, employs more than 500 physicians and 2,000 nurses, and can handle the influx of vets.

A recent national audit of the Veterans Affairs system found that New Jersey veterans, on average, were waiting 25 days to see a primary care doctor, and almost 50 days for an appointment with a specialty care doctor.

Sam Podietz, a veteran who served from 1960 to ’63, was on hand for the announcement and stressed how important a primary care doctor is, particularly if additional treatment is needed.

“You can’t just pick up and walk into the VA and say, ‘I want to be taken care of,'” said Podietz. “You can’t see a specialist unless you see a primary care doctor.”

Congress has been working on a bill that proposes veterans faced with long wait times, or those who do not live within 40 miles of the nearest VA hospital, can seek care from a non-agency provider instead.

Cooper University Health Care wasn’t willing to wait for argument over legislation. By sidestepping Congress, the Cooper program becomes the first in the nation to guarantee same-day visits.

“We’re just doing it,” said Norcross. “This is our program. We’re not waiting for legislation; we’re not waiting for transition. We’re implementing something.”

Norcross said the hospital is willing to absorb any cost if veterans can’t pay, though service is not free and the hospital will seek reimbursement.

The program is only available to the vets in the seven southern counties of New Jersey, and will not be available to veterans in the Philadelphia region.

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