Originally Published: October 21, 2015 12:03 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System Medical Director Donna Jacobs has accepted a promotion as medical director of the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, an announcement one civic leader on Tuesday said "broke our hearts."
"She's been spectacular," declared Wendy Elgin, president of the Prescott Sunup Rotary Club where Jacobs is membership chairman.
Though Elgin and other community leaders say they wish the 24-year VA executive (in Prescott since March 27, 2011) only the best, they lament the loss of an administrator with the highest integrity, someone they say was able to keep this VA hospital away from negative headlines and focused on quality mental and physical care for the 26,000 veterans it serves across a 60-square-mile radius.
Jacobs manages a more than $180 million budget and some 1,100 employees, about one-third of whom are veterans. The VA also has about 500 volunteers.
NAVACHS covers the quad-city region as well as communities that extend from Anthem to Flagstaff and Lake Havasau City to Holbrook. The main campus offers acute care, skilled nursing care, a short-term substance abuse treatment facility, a mental health outpatient clinic, a hospice and a variety of other medical services. The system also has five outpatient clinics, four primary care telepath outpatient clinics, two outreach clinics and a mobile clinic to service Navajo and Hopi veterans.
"We're deeply saddened because she is such a positive influence in everything she does," Elgin said.
Embry-Riddle University Chancellor Frank Ayers said Jacobs and her veteran support staff have proved a "godsend" to their veteran students, about 10 percent of their campus population.
Ayers and others said they admire how Jacobs navigated the VA amid the turbulence within the federal system over life-threatening wait times - the Phoenix VA was at the apex of that controversy - and severe financial cutbacks that have forced VA centers to reprioritize services.
"She's been a presence on our campus ... and she is a great personal friend," Ayers said. "Her leadership in the community, and in the veteran community, has been quite excellent. We've been blessed to have her here. She's going there (Oklahoma City) because she is so capable and competent. It will be our loss."
Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Chairman Craig Brown said Jacobs has shown a commitment to veteran outreach, particularly in the mental health realm.
"I think she's been great, and I congratulate her on her promotion," said Brown, a Vietnam veteran.
He then offered a good-natured warning: "She might be going from the frying pan into the fire."
VA administrators, too, hailed Jacobs' leadership and devotion to America's heroes.
"She is a dedicated leader, a caring person who wants the best for her staff and is focused on providing the best care for our deserving veterans," Chief of Staff M. Keith Piatt said. "I wish her well and know that she will continue this special mission in her next assignment."
Jacobs is expected to remain in her present position for the next 45 to 60 days. The process for selection of her replacement was not clear as of Tuesday.
Jacobs was away and could not be reached for comment. In a letter to local veteran service organizations, Jacobs said she was proud of what the VA has accomplished during her tenure.
She said she is assured "by veterans and their families each day that they have noticed positive changes taking place."
Jacobs is well aware the VA is not immune to criticism, but she has long maintained that she and her staff are diligent about maintaining patient satisfaction and enhancing service wherever possible.
One of the VA's major enhancements was a new $7.8 million mental health clinic that opened on the main campus in May. Jacobs has been a vocal advocate for assuring that the mental health needs of veterans be a priority.
The addition and upgrades of outpatient clinics with enhanced technology, as well as a new emergency department, have all increased access for veterans, Jacobs said.
Jacobs thanked all those at the VA, and within the greater community, who remain committed to caring for those who "selflessly served our nation."
"Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of your life and your community. Prescott really is 'Everybody's Hometown,'" Jacobs concluded in the letter.
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter@HutsonNanci Reach her at 928-445-3333 Ext. 2041 or 928-642-6809.