Several veterans who attended a town hall meeting Friday evening at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center praised the care they had been given, but in the next breath spoke of problems with policies and procedures.
Nearly 50 people attended the outdoor meeting under a tent in a grassy area behind the hospital, but many left early as the evening grew colder.
Hospital administrators said they held the event because they want patient feedback. Veterans Affairs medical centers nationwide and in Spokane have been under scrutiny for long wait times and record keeping problems. VA officials say those issues in Spokane have been fixed.
Several veterans who spoke talked about problems with prescriptions after being referred to outside physicians for treatments or surgeries.
Veteran Jurene Mason said that in some cases, outside physicians write prescriptions but the VA pharmacy refuses to fill them, forcing the veteran to make an appointment with their primary care provider or visit the emergency room to get the needed medication.
“You’re trusting him to treat us for that issue, but you won’t trust him to write a prescription,” she said. “I just really feel we need to look at the procedures you force us to go through.”
One man complained that he was told the VA wouldn’t pay for anesthesia to have all his teeth pulled so he could be treated for throat cancer. Another said he once waited in the emergency room for three hours because no doctor was on duty. Another said his friend needed painkillers after surgery and was made to go to the VA emergency room and wait several hours until he could see a doctor and get a VA prescription.
Those who spoke about their medical difficulties were thanked for their comments and asked to give their information so their case could be looked at later, a response that seemed to frustrate a few.
Some asked how the new Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act would be implemented. Hospital Director Linda Reynolds said she didn’t know.
“I can tell you we’re asking all the same things,” she said. “It’s still pretty much a mystery to us as well.”
Veteran Martin Dimuzio asked when the VA would be improving its mental health care.
“Our facility has struggled with psychiatric care in terms of staffing,” said Quinn Bastian, chief of behavior health services. In the past year the Spokane VA has replaced two departed mental health staffers and added four new ones, he said. In addition, each veteran is now treated by a mental health care team that includes a counselor, nurse, psychiatrist and social worker.
Dimuzio said his primary provider has been changed several times lately and he feels like he’s being “kicked to the curb.”
“The changes aren’t going like you say,” he said.
Veteran Dale Haflett seemed more concerned for the hospital employees than for his own care. He goes to physical therapy twice a week and said his physical therapist is often running behind because the 30-minute appointments don’t allow enough time to check charts and do other tasks.
“I’m rushed in,” he said. “I’m a number. I get rushed back out. You just can’t treat people like that. Give them the time they need.”
The focus on waiting lists and wait times was only brought up once, by veteran Ron Romer, who said he was concerned the hospital’s “knee jerk” reaction was hurting staff morale.
Reynolds, the hospital director, thanked Romer for praising the staff.
“There has been such intense media interest,” Reynolds said. “It’s been hard on all of us.”
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