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Acting VA Secretary OKs Recommendations for Manchester VA

Peter Biello/NHPR

Acting Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Peter O'Rourke, has signed off on all 29 recommendations made by the task force looking at the future of the Manchester VA Medical Center.
Those recommendations from the VA New Hampshire VISION 2025 Task Force include combining VA clinics in Somersworth and Portsmouth, establishing an ambulatory surgical center, improving mental health services, and increasing the number of beds at the VA's community living center. The full report is available here.

The task force itself was formed after VA employees blew the whistle last year on alleged mismanagement that harmed patients. Dr. Ed Kois was the leader of the dozen whistleblowers. He says the Manchester VA has made significant improvements since last year.

"We're not exactly where we want to be, but I think we have pieces in place to get us to where we need to be," Kois says.

When the task force formed last summer, Kois had hoped for more improvements to the Manchester VA, which was built in the late 1940s. But rather than rebuild the entire medical center, which would have cost more than half a billion dollars, the task force opted to provide a greater range of services by establishing partnerships with private healthcare providers and other VA medical centers in the region.

"I think if we got an ambulatory care building and had a better physical plant in certain key areas, then we could probably make do and work with local community providers for other components and really do a hybrid system," says Kois.

Dave Kenney, co-chair of the task force, says although the VA has approved of these recommendations, nothing is etched in stone.

"I think as you go and look at certain things, there may be adjustments that need to be made along the way, with regards to even constructing new space," Kenney says.

The task force also recommended "sustained investment in organizational culture" and cited VA culture as a primary factor in the medical center's challenges.

Kenney says what's learned here in Manchester could possibly be applied to other VAs nationwide. In a statement, Acting VA Secretary O'Rourke agreed.

"Our Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is going to take the lessons learned and incorporate the best practices across our VA medical centers to ensure all are performing at the level we see here in New Hampshire," O’Rourke says.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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