VA has responded to criticism

Where can veterans find quality care in Maryland? The much-improved VA medical system.

It's unfortunate that The Baltimore Sun failed to contact anyone at the VA Maryland Health Care System when reporting on the recent report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General ("Report details problems at the VA," April 19). The VA Maryland Health Care System welcomes evaluations by the OIG, the Joint Commission and other external review organizations to help assure that we are providing the best quality health care to Maryland's veterans. In the article, The Sun did not mention that OIG found that the majority of the allegations it investigated were unsubstantiated but offered recommendations for improvement. We take the OIG's review very seriously and have successfully implemented all of their recommendations. The VA Maryland Health Care System is committed to providing safe, quality and compassionate care to veterans. While we are proud of the many services we offer to Maryland's veterans, we recognize that there are always opportunities to improve.

Prior to the OIG review, the VA Maryland Health Care System had recognized its provider vacancies and implemented an aggressive action plan to improve access for veteran patients to receive primary care appointments at the Perry Point VA Medical Center and throughout the health care system. The action plan included hiring additional primary care providers and support staff and increasing clinic capacity. The outpatient clinic at the Perry Point VA Medical Center was staffed by five primary care providers and various support staff. In the last 18 months, which includes the time period of the OIG review, the clinic lost two primary care providers to serious illnesses. Losing two of five primary care providers at the clinic resulted in temporary access issues while the remaining three primary care providers absorbed the patient workload. The health care system has since hired three new primary care providers with an additional two primary care providers in the recruitment process. As a result of this action plan, veteran patient access has greatly improved there.

To date, the VA Maryland Health Care System has hired a total of 13 new primary care providers to help improve the wait times for veteran patients to receive a primary care appointment throughout the state with an additional nine primary care providers in the recruitment and on-boarding process. We are also in the process of hiring a contingency pool of providers who will be available to bridge any unexpected provider absences. These providers will not carry a full patient load which will allow them the flexibility to respond to provider shortages as needed to maintain continuity and uninterrupted patient care. In addition to the newly hired providers, we have been partnering with the community to effectively improve patient access.

Recognizing the high demand for specialized surgeries, the VA Maryland Health Care System has hired several new surgical providers to improve the wait times for veterans needing joint surgery. Additionally, our continued collaboration with the University of Maryland School of Medicine has allowed for joint and orthopedic surgeons from the University of Maryland to perform surgery at the Baltimore VA Medical Center. The VA Maryland Health Care System has also expanded the number of surgeries provided to patients in the community to expedite care when clinically appropriate.

Since the OIG review last summer, the VA Maryland Health Care System has already shown dramatic improvements thanks to the hard work and dedicated efforts of our employees. We have also been expanding our outreach and engagement with patients by holding quarterly information fairs, navigation seminars and town halls to offer tips for accessing VA programs and services, to provide an update on our action plan to improve patient wait times and to solicit feedback and input to help improve the services we offer. While I am proud of our many improvements and accomplishments during the past year, I am keenly aware that we need to continue to work diligently to ensure that we are providing timely and quality care to Maryland's Veterans. As a veteran and a physician, this is a mission that I take very personally and will continue to champion by assuring the delivery of patient and family-centered health care as we serve the needs of our nation's veterans each and every day.

Dr. Adam M. Robinson Jr., Baltimore

The writer is acting director of the VA Maryland Health Care System.

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