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Veterans share health care straight talk with VA brass

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DVAHCS Chief of Staff Kenneth Goldberg consults with veteran Daniel Clark during a Veterans Forum held at the Greenville Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center on Dec. 8, 2016. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)

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Michael Abramowitz

Friday, December 9, 2016

Patients at the VA Health Care Center in Greenville had an opportunity Thursday to air out some grievances, get some rare one-on-one time and ask questions to people most likely to have answers.

The Durham VA Health Care System hosted a two-hour town hall meeting at its Greenville outpatient center on Moye Boulevard. The event allowed the 30-40 veterans who attended, many accompanied by spouses, the opportunity to provide VA leadership with direct feedback regarding their quality of care and overall patient experience.

Representing the regional VA administration and care staff at the meeting were DeAnne M. Seekins, Durham VA Medical Center and health care system director; Stephen Blac, associate director; Jonathan Forte, assistant administrator; Kenneth Goldberg, M.D., medical chief of staff; Kevin Amick, Greenville VA Health Care Center administrator; and Olive Cyrus, chief nurse at Greenville.

One veteran spoke about a common problem vets have trying to set appointments. He said his appointments made by phone were set for six months out, but when his appointment time neared, he received a letter saying he missed his appointment. When he called to straighten out his scheduling issue, he was given another appointment for six months out, he said. He also said he was treated rudely by the staff person.

Administrators assured the patient the service he received was unacceptable to them and pledged to get his issues corrected. They met separately with him during the one-on-one period to gather more information.

Goldberg told veterans his expectation as medical chief is that every employee must treat every veteran with the respect they have earned.

“We need to make them understand that, and if it doesn’t happen, they don’t need to work here,” the physician said.

Amick discussed a new appointment request system that will allow veterans to set primary care and mental health appointments online or via smart phones. The system also offers a new on-site centralized checkout station where veterans can set their next appointments, he said.

The most commonly shared question was about the new Veterans Choice program, a still-evolving benefit that allows veterans living more than 40 miles from the nearest VA health care center to seek local health care, to be paid for by the VA, if they have waited at least 30 days for an appointment. The administrators provided more information about the program in a break-out session.

While some veterans had concerns and complaints, others, including Greenville resident Fred Rodgers, had more positive things to say about their services in Greenville.

“I’ve been to most of the clinics at this center and know most of the staff by their first names, and it’s been nothing but wonderful,” Rodgers said. “I think if you go to one of the large private-practice physician groups, you’ll wait just as long.”

The Greenville VA Health Care Center opened in January 2014 with about 70 staff serving about 7,000 patients from a 27-county area of eastern North Carolina.

Since then, the center has grown to serve more than 15,000 veterans and employs a staff of more than 300 health care professionals providing 35 individual primary care and specialty services, including mental health, cardiology, dental and eye care, diabetic education, orthopedic, pharmacy, physical therapy, women’s health and others. 

The center’s physicians are building a growing training relationship with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. 

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

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