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South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)

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South Texas has second successful stand down

A technician is adjusting the straps on a Veterans prosthetic arm while he sits.

South Texas VA Prosthetics Technician Randy Breaux, makes adjustments to the prosthetic arm of Vietnam Veteran Ed Koval. Koval has been receiving care at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital for the past 25 years and loves the care he gets there. (VA photo by Steve Goetsch)

By Steve Goetsch
Saturday, February 27, 2016

During the morning of February 27, just as the Texas sun was breaking the horizon, improving  on chilly morning temperatures, a few hundred dedicated staff members at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital were already at work, improving their South Texas patients’ access to care by participating in the second VA stand down.

Patients from several clinics at many of the South Texas Health Care System sites like dermatology, dental, orthopedics and prosthetics, were provided notifications through email or phone that they had available appointments. One of those patients was Veteran Charles Sloan, who called dermatology on February 25, with a concern he had with his ear. He was relieved when schedulers offered him a dermatology appointment 48 hours later.

“I didn’t know what to say, but wow, that was super-fast, and really easy,” Sloan said. When asked how difficult it was to give up a Saturday for treatment, he said his weekends ‘aren’t that exciting anymore’, but with such great parking, he would do it all the time.

Sloan really made the most of his stand down appointment by also filling his prescriptions while at the hospital.

A dentist discusses the results of an x-ray with a patient while he lays in the dentist chair as a dental assistant updates his record

Dentist, Dr. Don Buikema and his assistant, Diane Lopez, finish up an appointment for a Veteran in the Gem clinic. Buikema, who normally works out of the Datapoint location, moved the services to the main building to make it more convenient for his patients. (VA photo by Steve Goetsch)

Mr. Robert M. Walton, South Texas Veterans Health Care System Director, says Sloan’s patient experience is the motivation behind the VA stand down and the dedicated employees that volunteer to participate. “I applaud the efforts of our staff to take time out of their day to ensure Veterans have timely access to care,” Walton said.

Walton added that it is important that as a team, and as an organization, that we have a goal of always continuing to improve access.”

Army Veteran Ed Koval, who was seen in prosthetics for a fitting, said he was able to finish a very complex fitting process, and because his appointment was moved up, he brought in a device that needed repair and was able to work with the Acting Chief of Prosthetics, Gordon Bosker.

Koval didn’t know what all the fuss was about for having a stand down. “I don’t know what they are talking about,” Koval said. “I came in here [prosthetics] last week, and it was packed in there, but they still saw me in 15 minutes.”

Koval, has seen the transition of the clinics, and why he likes coming to the VA for his care. “Gordon always tries to work with me and get me into the latest technology,” Koval said.

He added that he has really seen prosthetics technology take off in the last 10 years, and the service he gets at South Texas lets him take full advantage of it.  

The accolades delivered by Koval, are due in part to Bosker’s simple philosophy on caring for Veterans. “It’s important to help the veteran get their medical needs sooner and also to work around their schedule,” Bosker said.  “Most of us working today really believe in the term ‘my Vet’ and want to do everything within reason to help them.”

Bosker teamed up with 8-plus year Prosthetic Technician Veteran Randy Breaux who loves coming in to the Saturday stand downs because he spends even more time with his patients.

A patient sitting down with a provider discussing health care needs.

Army Veteran Charles Whitfield sits down with his orthopedic clinic provider to discuss the results of his MRI. Whitfield had a mix up with the Choice Program, delaying his care and was glad that the orthopedic clinic was able to get him in on Saturday. (VA photo by Steve Goetsch)

Some patients took just a few days off of their wait times, while for some other patients like Army Veteran Charles Whitfield said a mix up with South Texas and a Choice Program contractor made him wait longer than he wanted for an orthopedic follow-up. “I wasn’t upset about it because I knew someone had just made a mistake,” Whitfield said. “But I was glad they called me, because in the end, I just wanted to get my appointment.”

The STVHCS leadership are not only focused on the care they receive at their facilities, but improving their overall patient experience. This is in line with National VA initiatives.

From his blog, Dr. David Shulkin, VA Undersecretary for Health said, “VA’s ability to meet the urgent health needs of our Veterans remains a priority for VA and the nation. As long as there is even a single Veteran with an urgent care need that we are not meeting in a timely fashion, we will not be satisfied.”

Air Force nurse Katherine Schwesinger was also waiting for an orthopedic appointment, and said she was glad that she could be seen, but a lab was required, and she could not get both done the same day, but likes the idea of a Saturday clinic. “Logistically it would be a good option,” Schwesinger said. She was offered a Choice appointment, but was offered an appointment for the stand down as well, and that was sort of confusing she said.  

Ronald Walker and his wife Sally were all smiles in the dermatology waiting room. They come in from Seguin, Texas, and received stand-down notification and was able to double up on his appointments and make a morning of it. The couple said taking advantage of the quick access was worth it. “It took us half the time to get here and they sent me straight back at eight o’clock,” Ronald stated.

Ronald added that his difficulties were transitioning to the VA, but once inside, it has been great. “Once you get into the clinics they really take care of you.” “We’ve been treated well since we moved here in 2010.”

Some clinics used flexibility to maximize Saturday’s clinic opening. Two Veteran volunteers, Dr.’s Carlos Esquivel and Eleonore Paunovich, set up shop in the GEM dental clinic, to make it more convenient and see as many new incoming patients.

It is this type of commitment that Walton has charged his staff with and how they respond in kind.              

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