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6:33 PM Sat, Nov. 17th

VA leader promised improvement, rating goes up

The VA Hospital in Prescott was recognized for recent improvements. (Courier, file)

The VA Hospital in Prescott was recognized for recent improvements. (Courier, file)

In two months, the local VA has earned a one-star elevation for its 85-bed capacity nursing home on the main campus, a promised improvement the medical director says speaks to the staff’s determination to provide the very best care to the most vulnerable veterans in northern Arizona.

In June, Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System was notified by national officials that its nursing home facility, the Community Living Center, earned the lowest rating of any VA in the country — the rankings are 1-5 with 1 the lowest. Since that time, the VA has corrected deficiencies so that the center that now has 65 patients is ranked as a two-star facility.

The VA “truly cares about veterans and is devoted to providing outstanding care to our nation’s heroes,” said Medical Center Director Barbara Oemcke in a news release on Monday.

After the quarterly inspection results were released, Oemcke expressed confidence the CLC would be getting attention so that the next review would be more positive. But she did note that it is an older facility on the campus that is now undergoing some $30 million worth of remodeling, renovations and new construction to enhance services for in-patient and out-patient veterans. Once the current improvements are complete, Oemcke said she has high hopes the federal VA leaders will be open to upgrading and enhancing the long-term care space.

Families of several patients took umbrage to the low ranking because they said their beloved veterans were receiving, or had received prior to their death, the highest quality care.

Though the rankings did specify a need for improved pain management and attention to potential falls and some physical improvements, including attention to the water temperature in patient bathrooms, the inspectors who rated the facility gave a 5 ranking to the CLC staff. The staff and their leaders were lauded for “best practices” and commitment to the best interests of their patients and families. Inspectors noted that patients clearly have a connection and admiration for their caregivers.

In its latest scores, Oemcke said the VA showed improvement in eight of 11 quality measures. Some of the improvements include a decrease in the use of newly prescribed antipsychotic medication, a decrease in falls that injure patients and a decrease in the presence of “pressure ulcers.”

At the time of the first report, Oemcke said the VA already was addressing the installation of new water temperature gauges to better control the faucets and showers so that patients are comfortable.

The CLC is a specialty unit that provides both long-term nursing care as well as skilled rehabilitation and hospice care. Clinical staffing demands are higher in these long-term, in-patient facilities because the veterans require more complex care. The mission, though, of this VA is to maintain those services, rather than focus strictly on emergency or outpatient care, Oemcke said in an earlier interview on the rankings.

As an organization, the local VA is in a period of transition.

The 162-acre campus is in the midst of a two-year construction period to enhance and upgrade its aging facilities. The VA, too, is seeking to hire new administrative leadership and fill vacancies that have prompted clinical staffing shortages.

Oemcke’s mantra has been one of patience and perseverance. She promises the VA now and in the future will remain this region’s leading advocate for all veterans.

“Our goal is to continue to enforce our mission and core values while providing the best quality health care for Veterans,” Oemcke said in the news release.

The VA’s Community Living Center staff “is dedicated to quality improvement activities and determined to continue these efforts — one veteran at a time.”

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.