Positive gains made, more to come
At a press conference on November 11 at Bethlehem’s City Council Chamber, President of LVMAC, Gerald Still, Retired Major General (USAF), announced the Healthcare in Our Community (HOC) alliance has remained strong and viable and has grown going into its fifth year. Still said, “The commitment of the CEOs of the participating organizations in this working alliance has been remarkable and necessary. Our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, continue to return to an environment where there are no major military medical facilities close to home. It is absolutely critical that we continue to work with one another and the local VA to meet the short- and long-term needs of our military veterans.”
According to U.S. Census data, veterans represent approximately 7% of the combined population of Lehigh and Northampton counties. Preliminary analysis of inpatient data being aggregated thus far for the alliance by Moravian College, an unbiased data collection and analysis resource, suggests 9.2% of hospital patients were veterans. This implies veterans are disproportionately seeking care in the civilian health care sector; and LVMAC anticipates veterans will increasingly use community hospitals as the VA’s new Veterans Choice program evolves.
Eric Johnson, a HOC Co-Chair and an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, noted that “… increasing numbers of veterans seek their care in the civilian, nongovernmental health care sector. They frequently use both private and public sector healthcare systems in an attempt to address their complex needs. To provide the best possible service requires using targeted population health management and outcomes-based care which recognize the potential impact of an individual’s military experiences. These patients should expect their providers to be more sensitive to the realities associated with military experience and our hospitals’ staff to respect and understand the need for this dynamic.”
Representative Charles Dent (PA-15), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, applauded the alliance’s efforts and emphasized that “…veterans deserve greater choices and opportunities in their healthcare. This is something that Congress recognized when we passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act last year. While some improvements have already been made to the Veterans Choice Program, it is imperative that further attention be focused on initiatives that will allow veterans even greater access to the civilian health system in their own communities.”
Dr. Mirza Ali, Chief of Staff, Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, commented upon how Veterans Choice and myVA initiatives are changing the landscape of VA healthcare, saying, “… for the foreseeable future, care of the veterans will require effective partnerships with community healthcare services. However, one of the biggest challenges we face is the coordination of that care …” Ali has been encouraged by the HOC’s recognition of the need for seamless, effective care with patient safety in mind. He stated the alliances’ efforts to improve communications and cooperation with the VA – including one involving health information exchange – is accomplishing many of the goals the new myVA initiative is bent on accomplishing.
Co-Chair Alexander Alex, a current war era, retired Lieutenant Colonel (USAF), stated, “LVMAC intends to continue the alliance and to build on the foundation which has been laid for the coming year. Identification has been a vital first step toward raising awareness of this population’s unique needs and the need to better deliver services. We have tested this successfully within the inpatient arena and have determined its benefit, therefore, we’d like to expand our veterans screening and identification protocol beyond the hospitals to include physician networks.”
Alex said the inclusion of the protocol is also giving the hospital networks and the alliance the ability to collect more meaningful demographic data for the purpose of identifying those services needed for better veteran healthcare at a regional level. Similar data is also being collected from the VA and Defense Health Agency to round out the profile.
To ensure readiness for the increasing veteran healthcare utilization among the regional hospitals resulting from Veterans Choice, he announced LVMAC has begun arranging creative, learning forums for medical professionals and has completed a Clinician’s Guide for testing. These forums integrate training and education on veteran-centric medical requirements and diseases. Currently, the alliance is working with a nationally-recognized training consultant, The Steptoe Group.
The effort is gaining national recognition. Earlier this year, LVMAC’s efforts to draw awareness to healthcare disparities in the veteran and military communities were recognized by senior representatives of the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity.
Ron Steptoe, Chairman and CEO of the Steptoe Group, which has done extensive work with the Department of Defense, medical schools and national organizations, said, “LVMAC is demonstrating exemplary regional and national leadership in its innovative and community-based approach for ensuring the improvement and sustainment of high quality healthcare and supportive service delivery for the veteran and military populations … over 70% of the nation’s nearly 22 million veterans are already being seen in the private healthcare setting.”
Daniel Vidal, Provider Network Manager for Health Net Federal Services, which manages TRICARE regional operations, remarked, “The LVMAC alliance represents innovative leadership and raises awareness of the needs of this specific group of beneficiaries in the healthcare community. We are pleased to be standing with LVMAC again this year to emphasize Health Net’s commitment to projects and initiatives that support the mission of taking care of our Veterans.”
The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania continues to recognize the alliance’s initiative as a vitally needed project. Dr. Michael Consuelos, Senior Vice President for Clinical Integration has stated, “The Healthcare in Our Community project provides an important opportunity for ongoing health care collaboration and education in order to provide high-quality, individualized care that veterans need and deserve.”
Involved in the alliance are Coordinated Health, Easton Hospital, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Sacred Heart Hospital, St. Luke’s University Health Network and its newest partners: Grand View Health, Lancaster General Health, and Pocono Medical Center. Heartland Hospice, Treatment Trends Inc., New Vitae Wellness and Recovery and Victory House of the Lehigh Valley also participate.
As of 5 December 2015