VA tackling list of improvements…

Legion task force asked for better care, relations at hospital

Brian Francisco Washington editor

FORT WAYNE – The American Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force has issued seven recommendations for improving communications, staff relations and patient care at Fort Wayne’s VA Medical Center.

“Patients here really like the care they get. There’s just not enough of it,” Ralph Bozella, chairman of the task force, said Thursday.

The medical center has already implemented many of the suggestions and plans to pursue the rest, according to a local VA official.

“We appreciated their feedback, and we look forward to them coming back in the next six months,” said Sheryl Grubb, public affairs office for VA Northern Indiana Health Care System.

In early December, task force members toured the medical center, interviewed staff and conducted a public forum for military veterans. The visit was prompted by a temporary suspension of inpatient care that began in October at the Lake Avenue medical center.

Among other things, the task force report calls for VA Medical Center leaders to meet with veterans and their service organizations, congressional staffs and media to explain reasons for the pause in inpatient care and describe steps for resuming it. The medical center has 26 hospital beds.

Grubb said VA has begun regular communications with those groups and will mail to veterans who use the medical center a letter that provides updates on the suspension and phased-in resumption of inpatient services.

That resumption is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2013.

A 60-day telephone hotline will be set up in mid-January for veterans who have questions about in patient care, Grubb said.

The System Worth Saving Task Force also recommended supervisor training for midlevel staff, the empowerment of front-line employees and nurses, and expedited hiring to fill four staff vacancies: cardiologist, pulmonologist, emergency room director and chief of mental health.

Grubb said two representatives of VA’s National Center for Patient Safety are at the medical center this week to conduct team building training for 144 members of the clinical staff.

The Legion’s task force regularly visits VA medical centers around the country and reports its findings to Congress.

With 2.4 million members, the American Legion is the largest veterans organization in the nation.

“We’re all in this for the same reason: to improve the quality of care for veterans at VA hospitals,” said Bozella, who lives in Longmont, Colo., and is chairman of the National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission for the American Legion.

Jacob Gadd, deputy director for health care for the commission in Washington, D.C., said officials at the Fort Wayne medical center “were very transparent with us about what challenges they were facing. … We’re looking forward to collaborating with them and coming back to visit.”