Frustrated by poor communication and what he says is less than satisfactory care at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Watertown, an Army veteran from Chaumont is looking for feedback about the facility from fellow veterans.
“If you don’t tell people there’s a problem, they don’t know there’s a problem,” said David A. Henderson, who served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1972.
Mr. Henderson, 65, said he has seen issues since the clinic, at 19472 Route 11, replaced a similar facility in West Carthage in January 2010.
The clinic is one of two run statewide by Valor Healthcare, a private contractor that operates similar facilities nationwide.
Mr. Henderson, who said he receives treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, heart disease and tinnitus, said he and other patients have had problems having phone calls returned, with some waiting for more than a week to be contacted. He also reported difficulty in scheduling appointments and lab work at the same time.
Mr. Henderson, who is a member of the Lyme Town Council, said he also became concerned when he consolidated his prescriptions in May from a private health insurance provider to Medicare. He said he had to submit paperwork to the clinic multiple times over the course of a month, as he claimed the staff either lost it or could not process it when it came in.
Since putting ads in Friday’s and Saturday’s newspapers, Mr. Henderson said, he has received about 15 calls and emails, with all but one claiming issues with their care. He will run the ads again Friday and Saturday.
Mr. Henderson said another veteran told him he was prescribed medication without consideration of his current medications, which led to a drop in blood sugar requiring a trip to the emergency room.
“I don’t think it’s excusable,” Mr. Henderson said.
Despite his worries, Mr. Henderson said that he felt the problems could be fixed, and that the collection of patient complaints could help the clinic improve.
He said he plans to take the compiled complaints to the clinic’s patient advocate or to the office of Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.
Richard G. Kazel, manager of the Syracuse VA’s medical/surgical care line, said the clinic had been under closer observation after it received complaints about returning calls, along with long waits to talk with medical staff. Mr. Kazel said the issue is one he talks about frequently with staff when he visits the clinic, since many of the calls are about using new medications and changing appointments.
“If there’s a problem with one veteran, I’m sure there are similar problems with other veterans,” Mr. Kazel said.
He said that when possible, appointments and lab work are scheduled at the same time, noting the cost many people take on to get to the clinic.
“We want to minimize people coming in for trips that are unnecessary,” Mr. Kazel said.
He said in a few weeks the clinic will announce more complete details of a transition to patient-aligned care teams, which would pair patients with teams of medical staff that would provide more consistent care and medication management.
“We want them to be an active participant,” Mr. Kazel said.
The changes would mirror ones made at VA clinics in Syracuse, Rome and Binghamton.
“It’s a major advancement for health care in the north country,” Mr. Kazel said.
In addition to the new teams, patients could save lengthy trips to Syracuse and other facilities by having consultations with specialty care providers by teleconference.
As a part of the new team setup, Mr. Kazel said, patients will be able to speak directly with a local member of his team much more quickly.
“Our future is going to be built on communication,” Mr. Kazel said.