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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

White River Junction VA Says Access To Care Is 'Good'

Charlotte Albright
The VA Hospital in White River Junction has emergency walk-in mental health care.

In the wake of scathing reports about long wait times and fraudulent record keeping in some veterans’ medical facilities, the VA Hospital at White River Junction seems to be avoiding similar criticism.

Deborah Amdur, Director at the VA Hospital in White River Junction, says the  recent audit that turned up egregious problems at VA facilities in Phoenix, Arizona found only, in her words, “some inconsistency” in access to different clinics in Vermont. She says a separate visit by the Inspector General’s evaluation team has not yet returned a report, but that informal feedback about wait times was mostly positive.

“I can tell you that there have been references that they feel they access has been good,” Amdur said.

In fact, she  says recent records show that access is even better than “good” for many patients.

"I can tell you that the access for new patients in primary care is terrific; we get between 80 and 90 percent in within that 14-day time frame." - Deborah Amdur, Director, White River Junction VA Hospital

“And you know I can tell you that the access for new patients in primary care is terrific; we get between 80 and 90 percent in within that 14-day time frame. And you know then we really have a team that if somebody comes and needs urgently to be seen they always get seen,” said Amdur.

The hospital has also ramped up mental health services.

“We have embedded a mental health team, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, right into our primary care clinic and that is a walk-in capability. So any veteran that comes into primary care is immediately able to see that day a mental health care provider,” Amdur said.

The hospital is not commenting specifically about Kryn Miner, a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was fatally shot in Essex in April after allegedly threatening to kill his family. Miner’s wife is lashing out at the VA partly because she says her husband failed to find timely care in VA facilities including the White River Junction emergency room. The hospital says privacy laws prevent it from commenting on individual cases. But Director Amdur says mental health treatment has been a high priority there since she became Director 18 months ago.

“The access is good but really important to know we do have that emergency walk-in availability for mental health services,” she said.

Amdur says she has also been working to lower the turnover rate for employees, which got a red flag in an Inspector General’s report based on a site visit in December 2013.

“We have had some turnover in nursing which I think is not uncommon. [We’re] really working hard on employee satisfaction and looking at our salaries, and so forth to ensure that we are competitive and that White River Junction VA is a place where people want to work and want to stay,” said Amdur.

Keeping nursing staff can be a tall order, she said, with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center right across the river. But the White River Junction VA is introducing more health and wellness programs for staffers as well as patients, and is considering extending staffing and hours in some clinics to ensure access to quality care.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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