The VA has received substantial criticism in the past few weeks related to access to health care services. Given this, I recognize that now, more than ever, it is critical that the Hampton VAMC maintain transparency and trust with all of our veterans and other stakeholders. I understand that you have high expectations for both the access and quality of our services, and I, as well as the rest of the staff here at the Hampton VAMC, intend to meet and exceed those expectations.
Today, I would like to share with you some of our ongoing efforts to improve access to our services for area Veterans.
Clinical services throughout the Hampton VAMC continue to experience steady growth in workload. In order to meet this increasing demand within primary care, in 2013, we recruited six additional primary care teams, consisting of providers, nurses, clerks, and other support staff. We are still not where we would like it to be with regard to our ability to provide timely access to primary care, which is why, we continue to aggressively recruit and hire primary care staff. We have also increased our hours of operation, offering evening and weekend appointments in our primary care clinics.
The Hampton VAMC does not have any lists outside of the VA computer system or maintain any lists for the purpose of making our waiting times look better than they actually are. In reviewing our systems we have found clear opportunities to improve our intake process. To explain this more fully, I will bring attention to the several different ways veterans can access VA services for the first time. Veterans who enroll on-line, in-person, through the mail-in or by fax, and request an appointment, are added to a New Enrollee Appointment Request (NEAR) Call List. Although Hampton VAMC was processing enrollment applications and scheduling new patients, the NEAR Call List was not being used as a tool for documenting that appropriate contact was being made, and we are therefore not able to validate that all veterans who requested appointments have been offered our services. This has been corrected. We currently have 836 Veterans on the NEAR Call List. We have initiated contact with 807 of these Veterans and are working to contact the remaining 29, which includes Veterans who have requested services within the last 24-hours. All 29 will be contact by the end of the day.
It is important to note that being on the NEAR Call List at no time excluded any eligible Veteran from taking advantage of VA services. For instance, if an eligible Veteran called in or stopped by the medical center to check on the status of their enrollment and asked for an appointment, they would have been provided an appointment. Likewise, if a Veteran presented to the Emergency Department with an urgent need, they would have been provided care.
Hampton VAMC has worked hard to increase access to Mental Health services. We have increased staffing by 26 new mental health clinicians since 2013, and this effort is reflected in our ability to provide more timely access. We recognize that mental health services represent a critical health care need and demand will continue to grow for Hampton VAMC. Currently, we are in the process of hiring an additional 18 mental health clinicians (psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers) in 2014, to support our continued growth.
Improving specialty care access has been a focal point for Hampton VAMC. We have made significant strides in this area, and we still have more work to do. Hampton has 41 specialty care clinics, of which four clinics have new patients with a wait time greater than 90 days. These clinics include dental with 123 patients, urology with 25 patients, podiatry with 37 patients, and audiology with 200 patients. Community providers have been and will continue to be utilized to provide these Veterans more timely access to care.
Additionally, we have had success in recruiting the specialists where capacity did not meet demand. A dentist, urology physician assistant, orthopedic surgeon, and audiologist have all accepted job offers and are expected to begin at Hampton VAMC within the next 30 to 45 days. Recruitment for a urologist is ongoing.
In closing, I want to express what an honor it is to serve the 45,000 veterans that we currently care for at the Hampton VAMC. Furthermore, I am extremely proud to represent the 1,700 employees at the Hampton VAMC. I have never worked with a group of such dedicated and caring individuals. Each of us at the VA has a deep and personal connection to our mission. It is truly an honor to be able to come to work here every day. We are eager to continue to grow and improve as an organization in order to meet the health care needs of the Veterans in the Hampton Roads area. A critical aspect of our continuous improvement efforts is feedback from the Veterans we serve. If you would like to share your feedback with me, or if at any time you have feedback on the services you are receiving at the VA, please send me a note at VHAHAMTelltheDirector@va.gov. As always, I will respond personally to every message.
Michael H. Dunfee, MHA
Director, Hampton VA Medical Center