VA clinic rated dismal
Too few doctors is top issue
By BYRON ROHRIG
Courier & Press staff writer 464-7426 or email@example.com
Originally published 12:00 a.m., November 19, 2006
Updated 11:42 p.m., November 18, 2006
Employees of the Evansville Veterans Affairs
Outpatient Clinic have given the institution, administered by the
Marion, Ill., veterans hospital, a dismal review on job satisfaction,
management quality and institutional "culture."
In an all-employee survey last spring and in
on-site interviews this fall, employees gave "filling physician
vacancies" priority while citing a long list of deficiencies portrayed
as compromising the quality of patient care at the Walnut Centre
nterviews with 46 staff members at the
Evansville VA outpatient center were conducted Oct. 24 and 25 as a
follow-up to a written survey of all employees last spring.
A report was not released, but a summary of
survey and interview results was obtained by the Courier & Press.
Notable about the survey, said local veterans official Mark Acker, was
that there were no surprises.
"These are the issues we've been talking
about for the last two years," said Acker, the Vanderburgh County
Veterans Council's service officer.
"This only confirms what we've been saying
all along about the clinic." Acker also obtained a summary of the
Part of the physician understaffing issue is
lack of a full-time psychiatrist, Acker said.
"So a veteran with mental problems goes
(into the Evansville clinic) to see a doctor and he talks to one on TV.
... They've put in this $25,000 TV system so
psychiatric patients can talk to a psychiatrist via closed-circuit in
Marion. It's not the way you do business when you're talking to people
with mental problems who need close personal contact."
Employees in Evansville generally portrayed
medical staff as "dedicated," "knowledgeable" and "hard-working." But a
"priorities for employees" section of the survey cited the "poor
reputation of (the Veterans Affairs health care) in the community as
contributing to the difficulty (in) recruiting physicians."
The large patient load per physician, or
"panel size" - estimated at 1,800 patients per month against a national
VA average of 1,200 - was scored by a large proportion of employees as
difficult to manage.
Among other perceived deficiencies,
employees also cited:
- A poor institutional relationship with
administration of the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Marion. High work
demand, "fear of retribution," lack of "responsiveness" and "positive
feedback" and short-circuiting any autonomy at the Evansville clinic.
- Forcing sick patients to make a 180-mile
round trip to the Marion hospital for treatments once routinely
administered at the local clinic. - Inadequate space and need for a new
On a five-point scale from "not at all
satisfied" to "very satisfied," among the largest spreads between
Evansville's clinic and the Veterans Health Administration average were
in supervision, senior management and promotion opportunity.
In Evansville, supervision and senior
management were in the "not very satisfied" range, but in the "somewhat
satisfied" range nationally. Promotion opportunity was in the "not at
all satisfied" range in Evansville, compared with "not very satisfied"
Becca Shinneman, spokeswoman for the Marion
facility and for its director, Robert Morrel, said the survey was "still
being reviewed" and declined to discuss it.
Acker said he believed Morrel asked the
Veterans Health Administration to conduct the survey.
"We're victims of budget-cutting and people
wanting to look good on paper," said Acker.
He noted demand on veterans' health care is
increasing with return of wounded from the Iraq war. "And," he added,
"it's only the beginning."
Acker, then-Veterans Council Commander
Robert Ahrens and other area veterans went public 13 months ago about
grievances with the local VA clinic and dissatisfaction with Morrel's
Shortly thereafter, Evansville Mayor
Jonathan Weinzapfel wrote Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James
Nicholson that any facilities needs could be filled by the
just-remodeled Walker Building on the Downtown campus of the former
Two months later, Nicholson wrote Weinzapfel
that his agency "will be glad to consider all prospective offers." But
Jeff Jones, spokesman for St. Mary's Medical Center, which owns the
Walker Building, said St. Mary's was notified in September that the
building had been "taken off the list for the VA clinic."
A contingent of local veterans organization
leaders have continually complained about the quality and availability
of medical services.
Overloading a dwindling staff of Evansville
VA physicians with patients, stripping the local clinic of services and
making staff changes without explanation have ravaged morale at the
clinic, veterans leaders say, and amount to the government's failure to
keep faith with the men and women who have served in the nation's
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