New Mexico VA Health Care System
VA Health Care Improving for N.M. Veterans
Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, recently talked at a news conference about the challenges facing the VA. He spoke about such important issues as access to care, accountability, and the quality of care. Now I would like to tell you about what is happening within the New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System (NMVAHCS), and what we are doing to improve health care services for our Veterans.
Since I arrived in Albuquerque in December 2014, I have made it a point to travel to every area where we serve Veterans with a community based outpatient clinic and listen to their concerns, ideas and often praises about their VA care. Near the top of our Veterans’ issue list at every town hall has been patient appointment wait times. We take those concerns to heart, and have made significant investments in training, field reviews and enhanced scheduling practices to ensure improvement. We aggressively train and retrain all of our personnel responsible for scheduling patients to ensure that there is no confusion in scheduling procedures. We are the only VA medical center in New Mexico, a state with vast rural areas. We know that we will always face the challenges of recruiting and retaining qualified medical providers. Our human resources staff is working diligently to fill openings as soon as possible in specific areas such as Podiatry, Orthopedics, Dermatology, and the Behavioral Health Care Line. For those of you who have required services in our Emergency Room, I want you to know that the cavalry is on the way. We recently hired five physicians and four advanced practitioners to beef up that staff.
We examine the quality of care in every area within our system, and we have made tremendous progress. In Ambulatory Care, for example, we have improved access in rural clinics through the use of telemedicine. In our Surgical Service, we have improved the surgical and post-operative management of cancer patients with the addition of cancer care nurse-coordinators. We also recently added a surgical uro-gynecology program, and expanded our cochlear implant program for profound hearing loss. Our Anesthesia Service is starting an Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) program this summer.
NMVAHCS’ Research Service works hard to improve future health for New Mexico Veterans. Our new clinical trials unit and the VA Cooperative Studies Pharmacy bustle with studies that improve personalized medicine, PTSD treatments, pain, depression/suicide treatments, spinal cord injury treatments, Parkinson's disease treatments, heart disease treatments, and many of the other disorders. The Million Veteran Program (MVP) enrollment of nearly 10,000 New Mexico Veterans to date will help provide VA researchers with a rich resource of genetic, health, lifestyle, and military-exposure data collected from questionnaires, medical records, and genetic analyses.
I would like to offer more hope for the future with mention of some new construction projects. Our new, 15-bed, Community Living Center is nearing completion at our medical center’s San Mateo entrance. A new Sleep Disorder Center, which is a Joint Incentive Fund Project with the U.S. Air Force, will house an eight-room, Sleep Study Lab near our Spinal Cord Injury Unit. Our new Acute Psychiatric Unit on the main hospital’s sixth floor will have 10 beds, with the ability to convert six more rooms to private bed spaces a year after completion.
The VA is on a path to rebuilding trust with Veterans and other stakeholders, improving service delivery, focusing on Veteran outcomes, and setting the course for longer-term excellence and reform. We know we cannot reach that goal without the unfailing support we receive every day from the employees, volunteers and our community. Speaking of staff, throughout our system it is often a case of Veterans helping Veterans, because one third of our employees are Veterans. We are grateful for your support!