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South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)

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South Texas VA holds access stand down

A picture of an open office sign

The South Texas VA system was open for business on Saturday, November 14 as part of the National Access Stand Down. Approximately 200 employees volunteered to support San Antonio Veterans.

By Steve Goetsch
Saturday, November 14, 2015

The corridors of the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, Texas were busy with activity Nov 14. Besides the normal Saturday clinics held at South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS), the staff took part in the National Access to Care Stand Down.

Several clinics opened their doors to patients as part of the first-ever stand down, and to maintain the entire STVHCS staff’s commitment to meet the health care needs of their Veterans.

The clinics selected to operate Saturday have seen substantial increases in access. Audie Murphy leadership made the priorities based on urgent needs of the Veterans. Some of those clinics; renal, cardiology, primary care, orthopedics, mental health and neurology were only able to operate by having teamwork throughout the units, in some cases bringing in staff from community-based outpatient clinics.

Acting STVHCS Director, Dr. Julianne Flynn, opened the stand down by rallying the staff and thanking the 200 volunteers that came in to support their Veterans.  “I would just like to say thank you to those who have stepped up,” Flynn said. “The great work that you do is recognized at the highest levels.”

Flynn added, “I am proud to be a part of an organization that demonstrates the ICARE values and continues the long history of high quality care and service to our Nation’s Veterans.”

In lieu of coffee, the staff also received a different type of boost from Radiology Administrator Charles Stemper, who gave out fist bumps, high fives and thank you’s to arriving employees.

A radiology tech is preparing a neck brace on a patient at the Audie L. Murphy Radiology unit.

South Texas Radiology Tech Marjorie Reed places a neck brace for stability on patient Marvin Arnold prior to his CT scan. Reed was able to get to Arnold's appointment despite being scheduled at a later date.

As the patients began arriving, most were whisked right back to the exam rooms. One of those Veterans, Edwin Melendez, who joined the Army in 1969, said he loved the Saturday stand down. “Yeah, this is great,” said Melendez. “I received a call, and then they said I can come in this Saturday. My appointment was December 10.” He was similarly amazed at how he was able to park right in front of the hospital.

Melendez added that getting an appointment sooner allows him to do other things.

Patients were contacted by phone after VA Under Secretary for Health, David J. Shulkin, MD, laid out his five main focus points for the Veterans Health Administration, the first, and most critical, being access to care.

That kind of patient-centered focus is already found at the South Texas VA, and it is rooted in the employees who are frequently Veterans themselves. “I am a 100 percent disabled Vet,” said Stemper. “I am just so fortunate to have a job working with my Vets.”

His radiology clinic was bustling, making the most out of every opportunity. Radiology Tech Marjorie Reed, helped patient Marvin Arnold by completing his Computed Tomography (CT) appointment early because he was at the hospital by mistake, and Saturday worked better for him.

A physician assistant is sitting in front of a patient discussing health care options.

A physician's assistant in the Audie L. Murphy Orthopedic Clinic discusses treatment options with Army Veteran Edwin Melendez. Melendez was able to be seen almost a month earlier because of Saturday's Stand Down.

Altogether, the South Texas Team offered a total of 385 appointments, and filled 208 by noon.

Another patient who was very happy to be moved up was Joe Olachia, whose wife Ramona, also thinks the stand down is a great idea. “I think it is working,” Ramona said. It is better than waiting another week,” she added, explaining that she would be willing to come in on Saturdays if it was offered.

She said it was a step in the right direction. They had problems with access, and thought today operated more like the emergency department service, responsive, fast and thorough.

As the data comes in from around the country and locally, the VA will review the results so they can develop plans that ensure they meet Veterans’ health care needs.

One result from the stand down that the Veterans, families and caregivers can take away is that the STVHCS staff is committed to providing quality health care.

That sentiment is summed up perfectly by retired Army Medical Officer and Acting Chief of Staff, Dr. Jim Wells.  “As a Veteran, I am honored to work with the employees of STVHCS,” Wells said. “The exceptional response by our staff and leaders for this first stand-down Saturday serves to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to caring AND is an example of service that our fellow employees in VHA and VA should follow.”

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