Construction is progressing rapidly at the Memphis VA Medical Center on a new dedicated area for women veterans and another for returning soldiers from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
Over the past few months, VA Memphis has also ramped up its mental health care staff, added a new linear accelerator as part of $14 million in new equipment, and received honors as one of the top Veterans Affairs hospitals in the country in the areas of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia.
Last year VA Memphis, which opened in 1922, provided services to more than 60,000 veterans and their families in a 53-county area of West Tennessee, North Mississippi and northeastern Arkansas. In September, the hospital was named among the top 620 hospitals for Top Performers on Key Quality Measures in the areas of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia in “Improving America’s Hospitals: The Joint Commission Annual Report on Quality and Safety 2012.”
The honor puts the hospital in the top 18 percent of more than 3,300 Joint Commission-accredited hospitals reporting core measure performance data.
“We’ve found that the use of standardized evidence-based care processes and the use of a very well-trained hospital group have helped us attain these measures,” said Dr. Kathy Ryder, VA Memphis deputy chief of staff. “With standardized protocols in place for taking care of patients with heart attacks, heart failure or pneumonia, there is no excuse to miss any one of the processes.”
Renovation work is under way at the VA Memphis campus on a new space designed for its expanding women’s health program.
“We have an increasing number of returning OIF and OEF female veterans. Some are victims of military sexual trauma, and we have to be able to accommodate that particular need with defined spaces, policies and access points,” said Jimmy McGlawn, VA Memphis associate director and CEO.
The new area should open in December.
“We are very excited about the opening of our new unit,” said Jan Slate, VA Memphis accreditation manager. “It is a beautiful environment with its own access doors, a childcare area, and new medical equipment for our women veterans.”
Construction is also moving quickly on a new area for returning veterans that should be completed by the spring.
“Specialists will be co-located so it will be only a few short steps for a veteran to move from one specialist to the next to get his or her needs met as quickly and as completely as possible,” said Dr. Thomas Kirchberg, VA Memphis chief psychologist.
Three months ago VA Memphis began the process of hiring 61 new mental health professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other ancillary staff. Earlier this year the VA Department announced it would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff partially as a result of an influx of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who need care for a wide range of traumas including post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual abuse.
“We are also seeing a need from men and women who served in the Vietnam War and other military operations of the past 30 years,” Kirchberg said. “They are starting to reach retirement age. As they retire, veterans who have had heavy combat experience begin to focus less on their work-related activities, and they begin to focus more on things that happened (during war).”
The new positions will mean patients seeking mental health care can now receive it at one of the VA hospital’s 10 community based outpatient clinics.
“The additional mental health care positions will allow us to put mental health and primary care in tandem in our outpatient clinics,” said McGlawn, who explained that three of the 10 area outpatient clinics are VA-staffed and the remainder are contracted with local physicians. “Another of our focal points is to staff up on nursing so we can accommodate the demand from in-patient stays and emergency room treatment. We often see more than 100 veterans in our emergency room in a 24-hour period.”
VA Memphis also remains heavily involved in the training of the Memphis Police Department Crisis Intervention Team. Last year, the hospital provided training for 450 Crisis Intervention Team officers.
“They received 40 hours of specialized training in crisis de-escalation so that they can intervene in a way that the person is not injured and the officers are not injured. It’s called the ‘Memphis Model,’ and it has been duplicated in 2,700 communities around the United States since it was founded in 1988,” Kirchberg said.
Officers are also able to meet with volunteer VA hospital veterans that have post-traumatic stress syndrome in order to better understand possible dangers during a crisis.
“It’s been an incredible partnership with this VA and the Memphis police departments, with one result being the officers go out and check on our veterans that are in difficulty,” Kirchberg said.