By Debbie Dakin
In the last couple of years there has been rampant reports of poor quality of care, difficulty to get appointments and other dangerous practices in Veteran Administration Healthcare facilities. Much has been done to overhaul the system and better serve our veterans. But many feel there is much more to be done.
My husband is a Vietnam era veteran and one of those served by the Harry S. Truman VA Hospital and Clinic. He has been a patient there for several years and has been witness to many of these changes. One of those major changes is wait time after arriving.
We both remember back ten or so years ago when going to Truman VA meant an all-day event. Patients were often so overbooked that they might be well past an hour after their appointment before getting called in to see their care provider. That doesn’t happen much any more. Now each doctor has a patient booked for every thirty-minute increment. Some patients’ needs may run a little over the allotted half hour, but usually not too often. Now signs are prominently displayed in each clinic saying: If you have not been called by 15 minutes of your appointment, please notify us. Since that sign has been hung, we have not had to go up to the desk and make a complaint. True improvements there.
Another complaint that has been frequently heard is the time it takes to get an appointment. According to a poll taken by VA, 84 percent report being able to get an appointment for primary care in a timely manner. My husband has little problem getting a primary care appointment. Some of his appointments with a specialty clinic may take longer, up to a month or a month and a half before there is an opening.
According to Dr. Lana Zerrer, Chief of Staff at Columbia VA, the number one complaint by veterans is inability to attain instant access. She also reported that in a 12-year time span Columbia VA went from serving 28,000 to 40,000 vets. It approximates to around 398,000 outpatient visits in a year’s time. Add to that 4,015 outpatient surgeries in a year and over 1,000 inpatient admittances.
Zerrer went on to say that Harry S. Truman VA is landlocked by the University of Missouri. She stated that the hospital faces difficulties with construction projects because it takes a long time to get approval by Congress and they have to deal with limited funds. In addition, they can’t build out, they have to go up. They also face challenges of many other medical providers – shortage of nurses, extreme expense of technological advances, etc.
My husband’s last visit to Columbia VA found him visiting with a gentleman from Maryville, Mo. This man was in a wheelchair and stated how hard it was for him to make such a long trip. Both he and my husband must travel over a hundred miles for their appointments and both have conditions that require them to go to Columbia instead of a closer clinic. There are several other veterans in this area that also deal with that.
My husband was at Columbia VA three times during the month of June. He displays the symptoms of having had a stroke – very slurred speech, falls down and stumbles, feels like part of his body is trying to go faster than the rest. He takes no type of narcotics and he does not drink alcohol.
The first visit was to the ER and I don’t make that long trip in the middle of the night unless we feel there is a serious need. Sadly, the ER doctor never so much as touched my husband. He didn’t listen to any part of him with his stethoscope, no blood or samples were taken and absolutely nothing was done. And he was the only patient in there. I was less than happy and my husband was quite discouraged. The next visit was a week later that was set up with an intern. Once again, not much happened. A week after that, an appointment was set up with his primary care provider. We still don’t have answers but at least tests are ordered and he is trying to figure out what is going on.
“I was really pleased with Dr. Rowland, the neurologist that got my deep brain stimulation surgery,” said Robert Dakin. “The VA worked with Columbia University Hospital and they helped me a lot. I will always be thankful for that.”
So, much like any other medical facility, Columbia VA has its good points and its bad points. I am thankful for each veteran that they serve, for like my husband, many of the veterans need this service because of what happened to them while they were serving our nation.