The Tomah V.A. Medical Center launches a major effort to repair its relationship with the public and rebuild trust with both veterans and staff members. The effort comes after allegations of over prescription of over powerful prescription opioids to treat veterans.
On Tuesday, the Tomah V.A. announced the completion of its 100-Day Plan.
When Acting Medical Center Director Victoria Brahm took over in October, she said she knew she needed a strategic plan. She wanted to accomplish small, attainable goals to let both staff and veterans know of Tomah VA's commitment to patient service.
By November, the 100-Day Plan was underway, dealing with over 45 different initiatives to mark progress.
That included boosting employee satisfaction and improving open access to care.
"When we did the all employee surveys, Tomah VA, in terms of employee satisfaction, was at the very bottom, if not second to last in almost all of the categories," Brahm said.
"This is highly concerning to us because the literature does support that employees that are fully engaged and happy, what will result is veterans that are engaged and happy and receive better care," she said.
Over the past few months Brahm has hosted listening sessions, town halls, leadership training, even came in at 4 a.m. to observe the early shift. Now, 5 out of the 10 categories surveyed are above the national average. Brahm said her goal is to get 10 out 10 categories above that average.
Another major accomplishment, Brahm said, is the Opioid Safety Initiative. Under this initiative, the V.A. launched what's called "Pain University." The program is set up like a school, veterans can take classes and graduate with a plan to help them manage their pain, hopefully without narcotics.
"Some of the things that the pain school supports are physical therapy, occupational therapy, healing touch, aromatherapy, acupuncture, those types of things that are more integrative medicine," Brahm said. She added many veterans have expressed interest in the program.
"I've seen over 50 veterans that have met with me and actually requested to be part of this programming.... especially the younger ones that want to not be on narcotics and have another way to deal with their pain," she said.
Also under the Opioid Safety Initiative, the V.A. is now giving out Naloxone kits. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a reversal agent. If a veteran overdoses on narcotics, Naloxone could help save their life. Brahm said they started administering the drug about two months ago. Now, every veteran that is on 100 mg of morphine a day, or has any other risk factors is given a kit and trained on how to use it.
Another part of the 100-Day Plan is to address recurring issues with the Veteran Choice Program. That program allows veterans already enrolled in VA heath care to receive care within their community without having to travel to a VA facility. They must either live over 40 miles away or have been waiting for VA care for more than 30 days.
In previous town hall meetings, veterans expressed frustration with the Choice Program's paperwork problems and month-long waits before they could even schedule an appointment.
Brahm said the V.A. is working to address those issues.
"We've hired staff specifically trained in choice that work with veterans that are having problems in choice, because sometimes it is taking an hour or two hours to resolve problems. So they are totally dedicated to those veterans like case managers and help them through their issues," Brahm said.
The Tomah V.A. also has plans to open a specialized clinic, solely focused on the Choice Program.
"Veterans can come and spend a couple hours right face-to-face for us to make sure we work through their problems and they leave with problems fixed," she said.
No word yet on when that clinic will be opened. Brahm said they are working on shifting around employees, and that it should open shortly.
Congressman Ron Kind, (D-WI) 3rd District, said he's encouraged by the progress that's been made.
"They're implementing the recommendations of the Inspector General's investigations. We are starting to see statistically the number of patients that decline that are on high doses of opiate dosage in the past, anywhere from 23 to 26 percent decline. And they are exploring more alternative and complementary forms of medicine so they're not just loading our veterans up with a cocktail of drugs," Kind said.
Senator Tammy Baldwin said the action taken in the 100-Day Plan show progress, but more needs to be done at the V.A.
"These are positive steps but there are ongoing investigations and the unfinished business of holding people accountable for the problems at the Tomah V.A. There is still a lot of work to do and I expect more from the V.A. to make sure the problems and tragedies at the Tomah V.A never happen again," Baldwin said.
Brahm agreed and said rebuilding the Tomah V.A.'s reputation is a work in progress.
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