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Larry Dandridge

The VA’s Patient Advocacy Program

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In the vast majority of situations, VA patients and their family members are able to solve any problems they have with their treatment at the VA through their Primary Care Team, Specialty Care Physician or Nurse, or Social Worker. However, if a VA healthcare patient or family member cannot get a satisfactory solution to their problems or a satisfactory answer to their questions from their VA Healthcare Team, they should contact the Patient Advocate Team at their local VA Medical Center.

Veterans may complain verbally or in writing, without fear of retaliation. The VA promises to give veterans and their family members understandable information about the complaint process in their preferred language.

You can find your nearest VA Medical Center at the VA’s facility locator at http://bit.ly/3Oryedx.

The VA wants to hear from veterans, their families, and their caregivers

According to the VHA’s Patient Advocate web page at http://bit.ly/3URTkEz:

“Every employee at the VA, especially your treatment team, wants to be involved in providing the best care possible. If you have a compliment, suggestion, or complaint regarding your care, first speak with your treatment team. Your treatment team includes your doctor, nurse, social worker, dietitian, pharmacist, chaplain, therapist, and other professionals associated with your medical care.

“If you do not agree with your provider about the care that you are or will be receiving, you should discuss your concerns with your provider. If you still have concerns, ask to speak with your provider’s supervisor or the Chief of the Service. If your concern is still unresolved, contact the Patient Advocate who will assist you.

“A Patient Advocate is an employee who is specifically designated at each VHA facility to manage the feedback received from veterans, family members, and friends. The Patient Advocate works directly with management and employees to facilitate resolutions.

“After your visit, you may receive a confidential questionnaire in the mail from the VA’s Office of Quality asking you about your satisfaction with recent treatment at a VA medical center. Veterans should use the survey to let the VA know of any concerns, complaints, suggestions, or questions they have. The VA also appreciates compliments about what they are doing right. Each Veteran’s survey is used to help VA identify opportunities for improvement.”

Complaints, suggestions, compliments are a gold mine

This columnist has seen and encouraged the VA to “liste to the voices of their customers.” As a volunteer Patient Adviser at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Healthcare System, I know that the employees and leaders there look at every complaint as an opportunity to improve a process, a chance to find the root causes of problems, and develop countermeasures, thus preventing the same kind of problems in the future.

Ask VA

Veterans, their family members, caregivers, and survivors may also send positive or negative feedback to VA via the VA’s Welcome To Ask VA website at https://ask.va.gov.gov.

VA employees must respect, support rights of patients, family members.

If you would like more information about your rights as a patient, please talk with your VA treatment team members or, if necessary, a Patient Advocate. Patient Rights and Responsibilities are posted in outpatient and inpatient areas. If you have not received a copy of your Rights and Responsibilities, contact the Patient Advocate who can provide you with a copy or you may download a copy online at the following two sites:

https://www.va.gov/health/rights/patientrights.asp.
https://www.va.gov/health/rights/familyrights.asp.

Ralph H. Johnson VA Healthcare System (RHJVAHCS) Patient Advocates

According to the RHJVAHCS PATIENT ADVOCATE webpage https://www.va.gov/charleston-health-care/health-services/patient-advocates/, the patient advocates at VA Charleston health care are specially trained to help veterans and their family members resolve issues with their care. They offer help with patient concerns with the care team and they advocate for patient and family rights.

The following RHJVAHCS Patient Advocates are available:

  1. Hannah P. McCoy, RHJVAHCS Patient Advocate Supervisor, VA Charleston healthcare, Phone: 843-789-6066.
  2. Traviell Hartsfield, Patient Advocate, N. Charleston, and Goose Creek VA Outpatient Clinics, VA Charleston healthcare, Phone: 843-789-6066.
  3. Traciee M. Prioleau, Patient Advocate, VA Charleston health care, Phone: 843-789-6066.
  4. Tiffany M. Hadaway, Patient Advocate, Myrtle Beach VA Outpatient Clinic, VA Charleston healthcare, Phone: 843-789-6066.
  5. Valeria Edwards, Patient Advocate, VA Charleston healthcare, Phone: 843-789-6066.
  6. Lakiesha Long, Patient Advocate, Savannah, Hinesville, and Beaufort VA Outpatient Clinics, VA Charleston healthcare, Phone: 843-789-6066.

The patient Advocate line 843-789-6066 is attended by all six advocates plus one assistant. There are times when all advocates are busy and customers can leave a message. Voicemails are pulled three times a day and customers will get a return call no later than the end of the next business day.

POW Patient Advocate

The Charleston VA Medical Center also has a full-time advocate for former POWs only. He is Lorenzo Moses Chaplain, VA’s Former Prisoner of War Patient Advocate, VA Charleston healthcare, Phone: 843-789-7415. Non-former POWs should not call this number for Patient Advocate assistance but instead call one of the six Patient Advocates listed in the above paragraph at 843-789-6066.

Workload, training, after hours

The RHJVAHCS Patient Advocate Team handled more than 8,000 cases last fiscal year. The top issue was patients complimenting VA employees and their services.

The RHJVAHCS employee training includes “Everyone is a Patient Advocate.” VA training is customer service oriented, teaches de-escalation skills, and skip-thinking (skipping over the negative reaction to criticism and focusing on getting the continuous improvement benefits in every complaint and suggestion).

Everyday Hero/Room for Improvement Card Program

The RHJVA Medical Center has suggestion boxes and preprinted cards for submitting suggestions, compliments, and complaints throughout the hospital. Those cards are collected weekly, scanned, and compliments are shared with staff and supervisors, while concerns and complaints are handled by the Patient Advocates.

Survey of healthcare experience of patients

After your visit, you may receive a confidential questionnaire in the mail asking you about your most recent outpatient or inpatient treatment at your medical center.

Please use the survey to let the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care Team know of any concerns, complaints, or questions you have about your care so that we can resolve them. The VA also appreciates compliments about what they are doing right.

The bottom line

Every complaint, suggestion, compliment, and survey completed is the best way to help the VA improve its healthcare services. So please help yourself, your family, other veterans, and the VA to continuously improve by completing all VA surveys and returning them to the VA quickly – and by writing down your complaints and suggestions and submitting them through your healthcare team, surveys, and the Everyday Hero/Room for Improvement Cards.

Larry Dandridge is a Vietnam War wounded warrior, disabled veteran, ex-Enlisted Infantryman, ex-Warrant Officer Pilot, and retired Lt. Colonel. He is a past Veterans Service Officer, a Patient Adviser at the RHJ VA Hospital, the Fisher House Charleston Good Will Ambassador, and the VP for Veteran Affairs for the local Army Association Chapter. Larry is the author of the award-winning book Blades of Thunder and a contributing freelance writer with the Island News. Contact him at LDandridge@earthlink.net or 843-276-7164.

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