WASHINGTON--()--The American Legion’s System Worth Saving (SWS) Task Force has issued its report on conditions at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Fort Wayne, Ind.
“While the pause of inpatient services was a proactive measure to ensure the quality and safety of medical care to veterans”
The hospital temporarily closed its acute-care and intensive-care services on Oct. 22, after a series of problems in critical areas of health care, according to Ginny Creasman, the facility’s acting associate director.
The Fort Wayne campus, together with another in Marion, Ind., make up the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System.
An SWS team made a site visit to the Fort Wayne hospital after several veterans contacted the Legion; they worried about their health care and wondered when important quality-of-care services would be restored. Besides Creasman, the team interviewed Denise Deitzen, director; Ajay Bhawan, chief of staff; Helen Rhodes, associate director for operations; Audrey Frison, associate director of patient care services, and other key staff.
The Legion’s report noted the hospital issued a press release on Oct. 22, announcing it had “temporarily paused inpatient operations on the Intensive Care Unit and Acute Medical Unit at the Fort Wayne campus to afford us the opportunity to review our processes, provide training to our staff, and ensure our continued ability to maintain the most flexible systems and highest standard of care for our veterans.”
Yet no official VA letter was sent to the facility’s enrollees, which caused much speculation among local veterans as to why the hospital’s critical-care services were being closed. Many enrollees expressed their concerns at a Dec. 5 town hall meeting hosted by American Legion Post 330 in New Haven, Ind.
Ralph Bozella, chairman of the SWS Task Force, and Jacob Gadd, deputy director of health for the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, facilitated the meeting. About 50 people attended, including Richard Jewell, commander of the Legion’s Department of Indiana; John Hickey, department service officer, county service officers, VA employees, and representatives for Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
Bozella told hospital administrators the next day that local veterans generally like the care they receive in Fort Wayne, “but there’s not enough of it. Services are going to be restored, but there’s no timeline.”
The Legion’s report said that several concerns were identified at the town hall meeting, including fears that the Fort Wayne facility would be completely shut down. Patients now must travel to the VA facility in Marion, Ind., for their treatment, about 50 miles away.
The hospital has been facing a staffing challenge; it has had three directors in the past 18 months and currently has vacancies for a cardiologists, pulmonologist and chief of mental health. This year, the hospital has had a turnover of 11 registered nurses and 3 licensed practical nurses.
While chemotherapy services were restored on Dec. 3, the facility still needs to bring back acute care, cardiac telemetry and intensive care.
The SWS report made several recommendations for improving external and internal communications, and addressing concerns of the facility’s staff, including:
- The medical center’s director should conduct a town hall meeting with veterans in the local area to explain the reason for the pause in services, and steps/phases for reopening them.
- Facility leadership should schedule media interviews to discuss progress in the resumption of services.
- Conduct quarterly congressional/veterans service organization meetings to provide updates and sharing of mutual issues and concerns.
- Supervisor training should be instituted for mid-level staff, as there were many challenges between frontline employees and leadership.
- Carry out current plans to conduct the National Center for Organizational Development, Transition Briefing/Orientation, and consider adding employee surveys, focus groups, culture training and team building.
- Continue to use Rapid Process Improvement Workgroups to empower frontline employees and nurses to more effectively work with doctors to ensure quality and safety for veterans.
- Continue to work with VA and private agencies to expedite hiring for the following immediate-need positions: cardiologist, pulmonologist, emergency room director/physician and chief of mental health.
“While the pause of inpatient services was a proactive measure to ensure the quality and safety of medical care to veterans,” the Legion report said, “Fort Wayne and other facilities must strive to identify issues and concerns, and follow procedures and hire the right staff to prevent future pauses or interruptions of needed medical services to our nation’s veterans.”
The SWS Task Force plans to conduct a follow-up visit to the Fort Wayne facility in about six months to determine what corrective actions and improvements have been made.
A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr. Koutz is available at www.legion.org.
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