Phoenix VAPhoenix VA: RimaAnn Nelson, Director of the Phoenix Carl T. Hayden Medical Center is the new Director. She left a previous hospital leadership post after it got the lowest satisfaction rating of any facility in the VA system. RimaAnn Nelson, who most recently headed a small VA clinic in the Philippines replaced Sharon Helman who was assigned to four different VA Medical Centers in a five-year time frame.

RimaAnn Nelson is the seventh director during the past three years to enter a revolving leadership door at Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix.

First looks suggest that improvement may not be forthcoming, but is that necessarily true? Our new VA Secretary Shulkin has said that she has his confidence and the concerns related came from other contributing factors.

“we actually saw a leader who was decisive, acting with veterans’ interests and capable of managing this type of complex organization, and that’s the reason why we believe that she is the right leader for us here at the Phoenix VA.”

Nelson, who began her career as a nurse in oncology, was sent to the Philippines in 2013 after a series of incidents under her leadership at the VA St. Louis Health Care System that consisted of operational closures at the hospital due to medical safety issues and exposure of HIV to hundreds of veterans. VA superiors hid her literally on the other side of the Earth … at the department’s only foreign facility, a seldom-used clinic” in Manila. The online publication said Nelson got a government condo on U.S. Embassy grounds and kept her $160,000 salary from St. Louis.

Phoenix VA

The Phoenix VA system, which includes clinics from metro Phoenix to Payson and Show Low, provides medical care for approximately 85,000 veterans. It has undergone dramatic and constant leadership changes over the past two years, at the same time adding services and 758 employees.

In 2016 the VA decided they would help the beleaguered Phoenix VA with their leadership problems by funding an additional $28 million dollar over and above the current budget. While the VA Press Secretary Victoria Dillon said most of the funds will go toward hiring more employees they have opened two new CBOC’s. One two miles from the main hospital called the Midtown VA Clinic and the other called the Southwest VA Clinic.

Currently all the clinics at the main hospital have been moved to Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) except for the Emerald Clinic that remains at the main hospital. Those clinics that were moved experienced from 30 to 60 days’ delay with their appointments per veterans that I spoke to after the clinics opened.

Phoenix VA Midtown ClinicThe Gold VA Clinic that I was assigned to moved to the Midtown VA Clinic. The 30 plus days I experienced was not related to the clinic being ready, but associated with my Primary Care Physician (PCP) taking retirement. Michael Langley, PA was retired Army medic and was outstanding. He is taking early retirement and travelling to Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines while he is still young enough to enjoy the experience.

They replaced him with Michael Bensch, PA, BS, MS, retired Commander (0-5) with his last rotation in San Diego, CA. He decided he wanted to continue working with veterans and took a job at the Phoenix VA. I had my first appointment with him, and on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest I would have to award him a 10 across the board. Now if I can just keep him from retiring. We need to keep the best at the VA.

Scuttlebutt says that the emptied clinics will be used to expand the specialty services but as of the writing we do not have any news on this subject. The halls seem strange without its typical heavy foot traffic. As I go from the newly assigned Midtown VA Clinic I traverse between it, and the main hospital for specialty services, therapy, etc. Because of traffic and parking, it is about 30 minutes between facilities even though it is only ~ two miles between facilities.

The final assessment for the Phoenix VA Health Care System remains to be seen. There is changes that are taking place and hope remains that the leadership is up to the task. If they continue to hire caregivers like Michael Bensch they are certainly taking a step in the right direction.

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