New director of Salisbury VA talks priorities

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 24, 2018

SALISBURY — The Salisbury VA Medical Center on Monday welcomed Joseph Vaughn as its new director.

The Navy veteran comes with more than 12 years of experience with Veterans Affairs, most recently serving as associate director at the VA Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi.

He takes over after the departure of director Kaye Green last May.

Vaughn holds a master’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University. His work with Veterans Affairs has been broad, from working in billing and coding to managing supply chain operations.

His favorite work was always in the director’s office, he said.

“I really enjoyed the time I was there and being able do do things that you could see made a direct impact … in veterans’ lives,” said Vaughn.

In his work as assistant and then associate director of the Jackson medical center, Vaughn says he was able to get “a lot of really good experience.” The facility at the time was facing bad publicity and was struggling to meet its performance measures, he said.

“We were actually able to start turning that ship around and make improvements and get Jackson on the right track,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn’s experience strengthening operations may prove key in his new job. In 2016 and 2017, the Salisbury VA received scrutiny for patient care wait times. For the Choice program, an audit of the Mid-Atlantic Care Network found patients waited an average of 25 days for specialty, primary and mental health care.

But Vaughn brings more to his new position than work history. As a veteran, he himself has received care from VA hospitals since his tenure in Mississippi.

Accordingly, his expectations of his new staff are what he calls “very simple.”

“Every veteran that walks through our doors, I expect them to be treated just like (they would) … treat me,” he said.

Vaughn has other priorities for the center moving forward, he said, including increased suicide prevention programs, better employee engagement and improved work with Choice.

Suicide prevention

The new director said suicide prevention is something he wants the facility to get actively involved in.

“That’s a topic very near and dear to my heart,” he said. “… I had a friend that committed suicide. He was an Air Force veteran. He was actually the one that talked me into coming to work for the VA.”

The first step in prevention includes community visits and education, he said.

“The best thing you can do for suicide prevention is raise awareness that there’s resources,” said Vaughn. “There’s somebody they can reach out to if they’re in crisis.”

Employee engagement

Vaughn said that while he doesn’t directly work with patients, he knows the importance of caring for his employees who do.

They need to be happy with their job and be productive, he said.

“(T)hey need to feel that leadership cares about them and listens to them,” said the director. “That’s definitely going to be a focus of mine.”

Working with Choice

Vaughn will often stress the benefits of the VA hospital’s continuum of care. Patients in the system have all their health care needs met, and each member of their care team has access to accurate and updated information, he said.

This, he said, is something you won’t see in any other type of care environment.

Accordingly, Vaughn said the VA hospital is not the only thing that suffers when patients choose to receive care elsewhere: the veterans do too.

“I think we have to start with employee engagement and then in turn always work to improve our … patient satisfaction,” he said. “We make the veteran our advocate.”

Getting acclimated

With his first workweek behind him, Vaughn said his experience so far has been “awesome.”

He said he’s anxious for his wife and four “fur babies” — three dogs and a cat — to join him in North Carolina.

He’s also enjoyed meeting staff members in his and neighboring facilities, as well as meeting members of the Salisbury community at large, he said. He’s toured both the Charlotte and Kernersville centers, two major pulls that brought him to North Carolina.

“That was one thing that attracted me to the area: a facility that’s growing, It’s progressive. It’s got great staff,” he said. “There were really no negatives.”

To give the public an opportunity to meet with Vaughn, the Salisbury VA is hosting a town-hall meeting on April 4.

Veterans are encouraged to come and voice concerns and to talk with and meet the director. The director of the Veterans Benefits Administration will also attend.

The meeting will be held in the social room in Building 6 from 4 to 6 p.m.

From 3 to 5 p.m. the same day, the center will hold an information fair in the gym, providing time for veterans to determine their eligibility for service and, where possible, enroll.