Christine, a VA hospital employee who withheld her last name, has two questions for Acting Secretary for Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson:
“Would you please change our software for our scheduling and could you forecast how soon we would have more employees to take care of the veterans we love to serve?”
Gibson provided answers to those questions during his visit to St. Louis on Tuesday. He spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in the morning and met with employees at the VA St. Louis Health Center in the afternoon.
“We let a contract a week ago for major enhancements to the existing scheduling system, those should be rolling out within twelve months,” said Gibson. “We are in the midst right now of a contracting action to contract for a brand new, state of the art, off-the-shelf scheduling system that should be available, I’m thinking right now sometime in 2016.”
The current patient scheduling system has been in use since 1985. The outdated technology is believed to have contributed to scheduling errors and lengthy wait times.
To answer Christine’s second question, Gibson says that the VA St. Louis Health Center is upping its workforce.
“67 nurses that are right now in the pipeline, in the process of being hired,” said Gibson. “That still won’t get them all the way back to a full complement in nurses but it moves them a long way in that direction.”
Gibson estimates that there are about 28,000 vacant positions at VA health centers nationwide.
During his visit to the St. Louis hospital, Gibson discussed efforts being made locally to accelerate care for veterans who have been waiting the longest.
“Right here in the St. Louis VA health care system, they’ve reached out to more than 3,000 veterans that were on various waitlists to get them scheduled,” said Gibson, making note that many of the veterans are referred to clinics outside of the VA.
Gibson says funds have been made available to ramp up patient services.
“I directed an additional 10.4 million dollars to be allocated directly to the St. Louis medical center here to use to fund that additional purchase care in the community.”
The VA St. Louis Health Care System will also begin providing services to veterans in more rural areas, including Southern Illinois and Eastern Missouri.
Moving forward, Gibson stressed the need for VA employees to keep an optimistic mindset.
“It’s obvious we’re in the midst of crisis, what’s not quite so obvious is that we’re in the mist of opportunity,” Gibson said. “What may be the greatest opportunity for VA to improve the care delivered for veterans in more than a generation.”
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