Thanks in part to recommendations made by The American Legion's System Worth Saving (SWS) Task Force, improvements have been made at the Fort Wayne, Ind., VA Medical Center (VAMC). But as Tuesday night revealed, more work remains.
At a Legion-hosted town hall meeting at Post 148 in Fort Wayne, Legion health-care experts, area veterans and a Department of Veterans Affairs official all admitted that the Fort Wayne VAMC is a work in progress.
Approximately 50 veterans attended the meeting and were given nearly an hour to offer up both praise and criticism of the facility, which temporarily suspended inpatient care last October. The SWS Task Force conducted a site visit to the facility in December and made a list of recommendations , all of which have been implemented. Those included sending a letter to all facility enrollees explaining the reason for the pause and steps to resumption of services, creating a hotline to answer questions and working with VA Central Office to expedite hiring of critical leadership and staff positions.
Jacob Gadd, deputy director of the Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, said that one concern patients had during the pause of inpatient care was that the hospital was going to close. But Gadd said that in conversations with Robert Petzel, VA's undersecretary for health, Petzel has said, "This hospital is not closing, and that no inpatient services were going to be reduced."
Turnover was cited as an issue at the facility. Sheryl Grubb, public affairs officer for the Veterans Affairs Northern Indiana Health Care System, has worked for three directors in her one year there. Grubb addressed those assembled at Post 148.
"Fort Wayne, since I've been here a year, has had a very bad reputation," Grubb said of the VAMC. "But I'm telling you that over the last six months, as we've started rebuilding, it's going to get better. As we begin to rebuild this system within, all of you are going to benefit from the outside. Everything externally will benefit from the internal reorganization that we're doing."
The facility has restored inpatient care for complex medical conditions and inpatient chemotherapy. Telemetry will be resumed, but the reopening of the intensive care unit is unresolved for now.
Both Grubb and Ralph Bozella, chairman of the SWS Task Force and the Legion's VA&R Commission, said that the problems at the facility couldn't be corrected overnight. Bozella said one of the keys was fostering a "culture of change" within the hospital and the community.
Veterans in the audience expressed frustration with access to the facility, saying many times they call and can't reach anyone and cannot set up appointments. Parking is another issue, and many felt that while the quality of care is outstanding, those administering it are overworked and understaffed. One veteran referred to the doctors as being "clinicians" because of their workload.
Bozella and Gadd will be touring the Fort Wayne VAMC today and Thursday, meeting with administrators, doctors, nurses and patients. They plan on sharing what they learned Tuesday.
"This meeting's very important to us," Bozella said. "These town hall meetings can be tricky. By the very nature of them, there's a lot of complaining and a lot of negativity. (VA) needs to know that in order for them to improve. That's a good thing, and we're going to look at it from that positive perspective.
"What happens (at the meeting) does not stay here. This is not Vegas. What happens here is going to be taken to the VA hospital, to their administrative team and to their lead staff over the next day and a half. That's what we do. That's our commitment to you."