Local Hospitals Continue Making Progress
On 20 June 2013 at Northampton Community College (NCC) in Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC) hosted the second annual Executive Steering Committee Conference on the subject of local military veteran healthcare. All the hospital networks in the Lehigh Valley were represented, including the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, the local supporting Veterans Health Administration (VHA) network.
Eric Johnson, as Co-Chair of the LVMAC effort known as “Healthcare in Our Community Program” Subcommittee, opened the meeting with welcoming remarks and introductions. Diana Holva from NCC provided a relevant example of how one of their students had been assisted by this initiative – emphasizing the need to continue our efforts.
Gerald Still, President of LVMAC, then gave the “short story” on the progress that had been made since last meeting and the challenges presently existing – setting both the tone and the purpose of the meeting. Subsequently, the executive-level attendees received a series of detailed, update briefings from the team members on each current project, all of which had been approved last year.
First, Eric Johnson, representing the Lehigh Valley Hospital Network (LVHN), updated on the successes and challenges presented to Veterans Affairs Liaison Officers and provided two case studies demonstrating the value of having VALO’s. He remarked that it has taken time to establish and settle them into their proper roles, but the concept has been “institutionalized” in all of the hospitals, a key step vital to championing veterans’ health care within the community hospitals. Admittedly, some are further along than others in exploitation of their use, but significant progress has been made. Johnson also discussed the other organizational representatives working on the project, to include TRICARE (the Department of Defense healthcare system).
Alexander Alex, a private consultant recently retired from the US Air Force’s Medical Service and also a Co-Chair of the Subcommittee, reported on the Veteran/Military Screening Identification project, which concerns itself with identifying military veterans when they enter a hospital health network. The purpose is to assist in improving patient care and safety, reduce duplicative costs for both the government and insurance programs when the patient receives dual care (e.g. Medicare and VHA care), and provide important demographic data for projecting future needs. Peter Schweyer reported on a pending beta test using Sacred Heart Hospital. Cynthia Bauer talked about the system already in place at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital and assured the audience it had no negative impact or risks associated, a concern which has been seriously discussed and analyzed in the development of the project. Alex than concluded the objective was to have all hospitals implementing their screening systems no later than April, 2014.
Jessica Huber of Coordinated Health gave an update on education and training programs which have occurred. She discussed the healthcare topics catalog, the desire for synergy with state and national efforts and the need for relevancy to busy hospital staff and medical providers. Towards that objective, Diana Heckman, Treatment Trends, discussed the value of establishing an intranet training resource, currently being developed, and showed examples of the information and resources available for professionals to assist them with treatment of veterans.
This brought the audiences’ attention to a multi-faceted project commonly called, “The Resource Manual.” Joe Cunningham of Easton Hospital specifically discussed a section of the manual, the Clinician’ Guide, which is developing as a result of focus groups and research and, as it turns out, based upon the VA’s own “Military Health History Pocket Card for Clinicians” , but with added sections. An example of the planned, intranet product was displayed.
Velda Mescher from St. Luke’s University Health Network explained the progress on another key part of the Resource Manual, the Case Manager/Social Worker Guide. Her project team is in the process of further refining the necessary points of contact and local services available. She informed attendees that all the information will be placed on the LVMAC website for use as an intranet link for professionals and will be continually updated for accuracy. Her discussion highlighted the need to find information quickly, within minutes. [Editor’s Note: In practice, the VA needs to provide a system to fulfill the need for doctor-to-doctor and case manager-to-case manager communication, as it already occurs between private community health networks.]
Andrea Grunberg of Heartland Hospice explained the new logo which had been created for this Healthcare in Our Community initiative.
Next, Alexander Alex described the magnitude of the military population in this area and the need to work efficiently and effectively with TRICARE. Kathleen Frost of HealthNet Federal Services offered an overview of who is eligible for TRICARE. Frost explained the problems occurring with denied claims, suggesting ways to avoid denials – the cost savings to the hospitals in not writing off these claims is currently approximated at $11 million per year in our area alone, or about two-thirds of all claims submitted. Frost showed some useful (and sophisticated) internet tools provided by TRICARE, offered provider training sessions and urged all the hospital networks to ensure their organizations and associated partners are properly and currently registered with TRICARE as authorized providers, a persistent issue in the region.
Major Steve Fox, a U.S. Air Force Fellow on detail to LVHN, gave a report on the financial management section of the Resource Manual – the nearly overwhelming challenges it has presented in practice and made recommendations for moving forward. [TRICARE cooperation in this area has been a significant boon.]
Eric Johnson talked about exploring the White House action known as “Joining Forces” for its potential in aiding this effort. Some initial feelers have been put out but the project team is still awaiting a response. He also introduced Alexandria Printz, a current medical student whose medical university (affiliated with LVHN) is involved with the joining Forces effort. She shared some of the challenges of new physicians and their need to know about available military veteran resources.
Velda Mescher and Eric Johnson discussed the need for and value of functioning Veterans’ Champion Groups within each hospital network to assist this project. Both LVHN and St. Luke’s are working towards this goal. LVMAC will be visiting this issue as the year progresses for wider application.
In conclusion, Richard Hudzinski, Chairman of LVMAC’s Veterans Committee under which the program falls, talked with the executives about the manpower needs of such a unique alliance and the continued commitment required to achieving its goals. In addition to completion of the current projects, he sought the approval of some new opportunities for the coming year:
- Finish the Veterans Identification/Screening Project – obtaining feedback from the Beta sites to refine
- Complete the Resource Manual – first as a web-based product for hospital intranet use
- Forge a fuller partnership with both TRICARE Regional Office North and HealthNet Federal Services – determine the feasibility of a mini-TRICARE Service Center or a substitute
- Provide semi-annual project progress reports to the Executive Leadership
- Accept invitation to tour Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center
- Explore “Joining Forces” – how it can help us achieve greater integration of federal and community healthcare services to the benefit of our service members and veterans
Finally, Hudzinski proposed that future Executive-level Steering Committee conferences be conducted in November of each calendar year to highlight the community’s healthcare networks continuing, concrete commitment to its veterans and military. This would begin in 2014.
As of 21 June 2013