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VA looking to rebound from 'very bad reputation'

Fort Wayne's VA Medical Center is striving to rebound from "a very bad reputation," an official told military veterans Tuesday evening.

Sheryl Grubb, public affairs officer for the Veterans Affairs Northern Indiana Health Care System, said the medical center has improved its procedures and communications since a temporary suspension of inpatient care began in October.

"As we begin to rebuild this system within, all of you are going to benefit from the outside. Everything externally will benefit from the internal reorganization that we're doing," Grubb told about 50 people at Charles C. Anderson American Legion Post 148 at Lewis and Hanna streets.

"Yes, the pause is difficult," she said. "I know, I've lived through it, it was very difficult. We did not communicate as well as we should. That's what I'm trying to do now."

The Lake Avenue complex has restored inpatient care for complex medical conditions and inpatient chemotherapy. Telemetry will be resumed, but no plans have been disclosed for reopening the intensive care unit.

The reorganization "is not going to happen overnight," Grubb warned.

"Fort Wayne, since I've been here a year, has had a very bad reputation," she said about the med center. "But I'm telling you that over the last six months, as we've started rebuilding, it's going to get better."

Grubb spoke at a town-hall meeting conducted by the American Legion's System Worth Having Task Force. After a similar hearing in New Haven in December, the task force recommended that the VA Medical Center fill staff vacancies, expand training and improve communications inside and outside the complex.

"The facility wholeheartedly supported all of our recommendations," said Jacob Gadd, the Washington, D.C.-based deputy of health care for the American Legion's National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.

Tuesday's meeting veered off script earlier when Gadd asked veterans to comment on issues related to the suspension of inpatient care. Instead, many complained about problems setting up outpatient appointments, obtaining medicine and having their telephone calls answered.

"Every time we call, we can't get through," Ron Imbody said.

Clifford F. Buttram Jr. said the VA Medical Center should – but does not – offer the same level of care as local hospital systems Lutheran Health Network and Parkview Health.

"I think that's what we really deserve," Buttram said.

Many veterans in the audience said they think the medical center is understaffed and that its employees are overworked.

"The reason this hospital has been having problems is because of staffing," the Legion's Gadd said. "It's been because of turnover with staffing."

Gadd said that Robert Petzel, VA's undersecretary for health, told him, "This hospital is not closing, and that no inpatient services were going to be reduced."

Gadd and task force Chairman Ralph Bozella will tour the medical center and meet with staff today and Thursday.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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