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South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)

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Meet the New Director - Mr. Robert M. Walton

An official portrait of new STVHCS Director, Mr. Robert Walton

Previously, Mr. Walton served as the Director of the Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen, Texas. He brings 29 years of Veterans Affairs experience to Audie L. Murphy. Mr. Walton took time out to answer a few questions about what led him to the VA, his VA experience and what his vision is for the future of STVHCS.

By Steve Goetsch
Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mr. Robert M. Walton was appointed Director of South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS) on November 16, 2015. Mr. Walton leads 3,600 employees that provide health care services for 85,000 unique Veterans. In Fiscal Year 2015, STVHCS provided 1,718,921 outpatient visits to area Veterans.

Previously, Mr. Walton served as the Director of the Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen, Texas. He brings 29 years of Veterans Affairs experience to Audie L. Murphy. Mr. Walton took time out to answer a few questions about what led him to the VA, his VA experience and what his vision is for the future of STVHCS.

Q: What are some things that you focused on at the Valley that you want to continue to focus on here?

A: Improving access for Veterans is one of the things we worked a lot on. We were trying to increase capacity for primary care, trying to increase the number of specialties we provided in house.

Improving the non-VA care process was one of the big challenges we had in the Valley. With the Choice Act it’s definitely a challenge for all of us as we try to better understand it.

So again, I’m hoping that having one way of doing non-VA care will make it much simpler for everybody; Veterans, employees and providers for that matter.

One thing I worked on a lot in the Valley is improving the Veteran experience itself. We did that by doing a lot of customer service training, hiring a customer service manager and an additional patient advocate to be more proactive hoping to resolve issues before it gets elevated above the facility level.

I also increased transparency. I met with Veterans groups there frequently, just to keep them updated about the health care system, what was going on, and more education for community partners of what the process is. So my biggest focus areas were and will continue to be:

  • improving access

  • improving customer service

  • and improving the non-VA care process  

Q: What are some of your longer term goals for Audie L. Murphy?

A: Despite only being here for six days, I have recognized that space is definitely an issue here, having appropriate space for providing care, so I’m definitely looking at increasing space both from an outpatient perspective and enough space for primary care and mental health and specialty to provide those services.

We have a beautiful facility. We need to make sure we keep the facility updated, making sure we stay in the modern age of health care and make sure we have the technology up to date.

I worked here 29-plus years ago, and the facility has definitely changed a lot since I was here, with a lot more services, polytrauma being one of them. They were just building the SCI when I was here before, so we definitely have a lot more services available, so just building on those services and making sure we provide state-of-the-art technology in everything that we do.

Q: What made you pick the VA?

A: I have been in the VA for 29 years. I started out at the VA as an engineering trainee here. I am not a Veteran myself, but my grandfather was a World War II Veteran which is what got me to the VA and wanting to serve Veterans.

Once I got hooked to the VA mission, I had other opportunities to go elsewhere, but I definitely decided to stay within the VA and the VA mission. I owe a lot of going into health care management to Mr. Jose Coronado who was previously a Director here and my mentor

I’ve had some great mentors in the VA, who encouraged me to go above and beyond, to stretch myself, to go for things that might have been out of reach at the time. But they encouraged me to go for training programs to further my career, and to always look for further opportunities, so I definitely had that encouragement from many people throughout my career, so I owe a lot of where I am today to those people.

Q: What do you think the employees of the South Texas VA need to know and do, to make STVHCS successful in 2016?

A: Well I think the Secretary’s goals for the VA are something that we should definitely work on as part of the MyVA experience.

Of course the two things that I think we should work on mostly are improving the Veterans experience, and improving the employee experience, and like the secretary says, we can’t improve one without the other.

I think this is a great facility, and we provide world-class health care, but we need to keep moving forward to make sure we address all Veterans’ needs and make the Veteran the center of everything we do here.”

We have to work on the many support services. Whether it’s HR, fiscal, classification or IT, you have to keep working with the support services to make them better and more responsive to what we do on a daily basis.

We have a lot of great support from our community partners; again we have to keep working on those community partnerships. We have great partnerships currently with the DOD, and great partnerships with our affiliate.

Lastly, I am focused on continuous performance improvement. I am an engineer, so I am very process oriented. I am a strong supporter of Lean Six Sigma and systems redesign, looking at processes and making them better. Better as being more efficient and also better for improving the experience our Veterans encounter and making sure everything we do is value-added to the process.

I would encourage employees to continue to provide great customer service, to continue to improve the Veteran experience, and all work together to improve access to care and provide great quality healthcare. 

Please welcome Mr. Walton to the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

 

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