Huntington VAMC making transformation to MyVA

March 1, 2017
Herald Dispatch

The Huntington VA Medical Center (VAMC) began a transformation just over two years ago to ensure world-class care for veterans. Joining with other VA facilities across the nation, the VAMC acknowledged challenges and embraced solutions and improvements to provide high-quality, timely care our veterans have earned and deserve.

What began as a national focus on increased access quickly spread into nearly every element of our health care system. Locally, our MyVA transformation includes a renewed emphasis on homeless veteran outreach and suicide prevention, as well as several construction projects to expand services and improve access.

This summer, the design will be completed for a 16-bed Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (RRTP) to help veterans recover from drug and alcohol addiction. The one-story, free-standing RRTP building will be a new construction, about 10,000 to 12,000 square feet, located on the main campus near the mental health clinic.

"The RRTP program will be unique in the length of stay for each veteran, depending on his or her plan of care," said Medical Center Director Brian Nimmo. "Families will be involved in the treatment plan, and the building will have more of a residential look and feel, rather than an institutional design."

Construction of the RRTP is projected to begin this fall at a cost just under $5 million. The project is expected to be completed in 15 to 18 months.

A project to expand cardiology services began last year with the completion of a state-of-the-art heart catherization lab in August 2016. Currently, work is underway to add six additional exam rooms in cardiology, as well as an expanded post discharge clinic for patients with congestive heart failure (CHF).

"The post discharge clinic will mean a huge improvement in quality of life as well as length of life for our CHF patients," Nimmo said. "Patient education is vital to improved patient outcomes, and this clinic will create the conditions for success in monitoring and managing CHF symptoms."

Another project underway is the renovation of the operating rooms and surgical suite. The $7.5 million project will be completed in four phases over the next 18 months. Originally constructed in 1993, the current operating rooms will be enlarged and updated to ensure that all are similar in design, shape and size. The project will also include updates in same-day surgery and pre-op areas to improve patient flow and privacy.

Last fall, the Huntington VAMC was selected as a priority site for a future VA Fisher House construction. Fisher Houses provide a "home away from home" for the family members and caregivers of hospitalized veterans and active duty service members.

"There are no other Fisher Houses in West Virginia, and so we are elated to have been selected as a priority site," Nimmo said.

Suicide prevention remains one of the VA's top priorities.

"We can all agree that one veteran suicide is one is too many," Nimmo said. "We are offering preventive training to veterans organizations and community groups, providing them with crisis line cards and other information that can help save lives."

The Veterans Crisis Line is staffed with professionals who are trained to deal with veterans in crisis. Last year, the national VA crisis line received 240,000 calls. Nimmo says several veterans have told him directly that the crisis line saved their lives.

To contact the Veterans Crisis Line, call 1-800-273-8255, then press 1.

Eliminating veteran homelessness is another VA priority.

Key staff members have walked the river bank searching for homeless camps and handling out information about resources. On a chilly day last December, Nimmo along with Anne Robinson, homeless program social worker, Andrew Blake, Vet Center outreach specialist, and John Hampton, supportive services for veterans and families, boarded a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to search for homeless veterans in areas that are only accessible by boat. Although they found several homeless camps, they did not find any veterans. Nonetheless, the search to identify and house homeless veterans continues.

Veterans at risk for homelessness are encouraged to contact the VA Community Resource and Referral Center at 624 9th St. in Huntington or call 304-529-9142. Staff can assist with housing vouchers, applying for benefits and offer resources such as job assistance and a donation center.

Eligible veterans may become homeowners through the Veterans Housing Initiative, a collaborative between the VAMC and Habitat for Humanity. Last December, a home dedication was held for veterans Karen Hays and Jim Hendrie. It is the fifth home provided through this program.

In 2016, the number of veterans served at the VAMC increased by more than 500 patients, and 424,424 appointments were scheduled within the Huntington VA system.

During this period of growth, veterans and staff alike have ranked the Huntington VAMC as one of the top facilities in the nation. In national patient satisfaction surveys, veterans ranked Huntington well above the national average in respect and overall satisfaction with their care. In a national VHA report, employees rated the Huntington VAMC as the #1 Best Place to Work for the second year in a row. VA staff members remain committed to fulfilling our mission "to care for him who shall have borne the battle."

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