PLAINS TWP. — Bob McCracken came armed with questions and compliments Monday at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center town hall meeting.
U.S. Navy veteran McCracken was one of about a dozen people to attend the forum in the recreation room of the center. Though he said the medical service he receives was done to the best of hospital staffers’ abilities, he had gripes with the federal Veterans Choice Program and the national scheduling program the VA uses.
McCracken, of Clarks Summit, said the schedulers are “nice and helpful” with scheduling appointments, “but you can do so much more.” He was hoping to find out what could be done about schedulers inability to check for available appointment on the same day with more than one department or doctor to alleviate the need for multiple trips to the center. The computer system is outdated and staff can’t check more than one date or department at a time.
“If I have a doctor’s appointment Tuesday, don’t make me come back Wednesday for another one,” he pleaded.
Medical Center Director Russell Lloyd admitted the system is old.
“It’s the oldest software package,” Lloyd said.
But good news is coming, said Dr. Michael Adelman, Veterans Integrated Service Network 4 director. Adelman, who was a special guest at the town hall, said a new update to the scheduling system is due out in March.
“It’s not like we can go to Best Buy and get a new program,” Adelman said.
As for the Veterans Choice program, McCracken, Lloyd and Adelman are all happy the program sunset date — when the law governing it will no longer be in effect — ends this year. The program, instituted by Congress in 2015, is a temporary benefit that allows veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for an appointment or traveling to a VA facility.
“Seven (Choice Program) people called me (to make an appointment),” McCracken said about his experience with an injured shoulder. He is claustrophobic and can’t have a closed MRI completed, so he had to make an appointment for an open MRI, which the center doesn’t have. “I used the saying the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.”
Both Adelman and Lloyd acknowledged the program wasn’t working the was it was intended.
“But we’ve got to abide by legislation,” Lloyd said.
Though the VA has many contracts for different services with providers in the region, Lloyd said the Choice program stymied some of the fund to contract out.
“(Contracting) just makes you a better community partner,” McCracken insisted.
McCracken, a self-admitted type-A personality, said the concerns he was voicing made him want to “flip desks.”
Adelman countered saying because the VA hospitals are national, it’s “not as simple as flipping a desk and jumping on it.”
“We’re getting there,” Lloyd added.
Reach Melanie Mizenko at 570-991-6116 or on Twitter @TL_MMizenko.