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Salisbury VAMC looks for ways to improve service with veteran council

By Michael Maddox

W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center Public Affairs

Any successful organization knows that to be fruitful, you need to pay attention to your customers and get their feedback. The Salisbury VA Medical Center is doing just that through the recently formed Veteran and Family Advisory Council (VFAC).

Dr. Marc Castellani, a clinical psychologist and chairman of the advisory council, said VA Medical Center leadership recognizes that getting the veterans’ perspective and ideas on how to improve their experience at the medical center is a valuable resource.

“We really need the voice of the veteran in all of our work. We want to know what their thoughts are about our initiatives, our programs and the care they receive,” he said. “They’re the ones who are coming here – having experiences with how we provide care. We want to not just think about ourselves, our providers or what the facility wants – but what the veteran and their family members want. Our goal for this council is to hear from them, get their input on any of the programs that we’re doing and learn what concerns they have.”

Todd Mommsen, a Navy veteran and council member, said he volunteered to be on the council because while he is personally happy with the care he receives, there is always room for improvement.

“I understand that many people may not have time to be on something like a council, and I do, so I wanted to help by bringing up some ideas I’ve heard from talking to other veterans,” he said. “Right now there are lots of people giving VA feedback nationally on how they can do things better, but I wanted to focus on the little things that we can do locally to make things better when someone goes to the doctor.”

Castellani said the council, which held its first meeting in November, has already provided several recommendations to VA Medical Center leadership. One of them that is being put into place is the moving of the lab in Building 21 to a more private area.

“We had a meeting with the director and one of the veterans mentioned the lab area and how everyone has to wait in the hallway. It can get very crowded, and that’s also where oncology patients who are here getting treatment for cancer go to get lab work done,” he said. “The veteran suggested there are rooms in Building 21 that would be much more appropriate and give patients a better environment and a place to sit down. We don’t always think about those things. We think about what it’s like to work here, we don’t always think about what it’s like to be a patient here.”

Another suggestion brought up by council members is the development of a new patient orientation to provide information on services and resources available at the medical center.

“We have new employee orientation so that when a new employee comes in they have an idea of what’s available at VA. We don’t really have anything like that for patients,” said Castellani. “They also like the idea of something like an ambassador program where you have veterans here greeting people who come in and letting them know where they need to go or how they can help them.”

“It’s still early in the process so they are still brainstorming about what they want to accomplish, but those are some of the early things,” he added. “They really want to find a balance with the low hanging fruit – things that can be done now – and then things that are longer term that can make a significant difference in the way Salisbury operates.”

The council currently has six members: five veterans and one family member, but they plan on expanding to a total of eight. Veterans or family members interested in serving on the council are first interviewed after filling out an application.

“The reason we interviewed people is that we wanted to make sure they are people who are able to use their own personal experiences in a constructive and empathetic manner. We wanted people who are going to recommend solutions and think about how we can make this place better for our veterans and their families,” Castellani explained.

Anyone interested in serving on the VFAC, can contact Castellani at 704-638-9000, Ext. 4569.

 

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