DANVILLE — The Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System will continue to emphasize customer service and access to care this year, as it has in the past.

“This will be an important year for the VA across the country as we continue re-earning the trust of veterans,” director Japhet Rivera said.

Illiana initiated several new programs last year, and plans to build on those in 2015.

One new venture is the town hall meeting, which will be conducted quarterly at various sites in Illiana’s area. The first one was Sept. 19 in Danville with veterans, their families, and organizations and individuals who work with or on behalf of veterans. The second was Dec. 5 in Peoria; others will be in Springfield before March and in Danville before June.

“This is a great opportunity for our veterans to provide feedback,” Rivera said.

The secretary of Veterans Affairs directed all VA health-care and benefits facilities to hold quarterly town hall events to improve communication with veterans nationwide.

“This was something that needed to happen,” Rivera said. There also was a mandate to hold meetings with veterans’ organizations, but Rivera said Illiana was already doing that.

At the Danville town hall, Rivera urged veterans to let him know the facility can improve, adding, “We’re listening.”

Other accomplishments

• Reopening of the Social Activity Room (SAR)/Recreation Hall and patient bowling alley means more activities for veterans.

“It’s beautiful,” Rivera said of the bowling alley, and people have been using it.

The bowling alley was reopened and named the John Wright Bowling Lanes. Wright was a veteran and a former volunteer in Recreation Therapy who left his entire estate of $1.5 million to Recreation Therapy. About $275,000 of the money was used to renovate the bowling alley, which had not been in use for more than 10 years. 

The renovation of the SAR provides a state-of-the-art room that can be used for patient activities, educational sessions for employees, cultural diversity events and a multitude of other activities/events. Location of the SAR in the middle of the campus helps provide access for patients and employees to participate in events.

• Illiana also learned last year that it was recognized as part of The Joint Commission’s 2014 annual report “America’s Hospitals: Improving Quality and Safety,” for attaining and sustaining excellence in accountability measure performance for pneumonia and hospital-based inpatient psychiatry.

Illiana is one of 1,224 hospitals in the United States to achieve the 2013 Top Performer distinction.

“We understand what matters most to veterans at VAIHCS is the quality and safety of the care they receive. That is why we have made it a top priority to improve positive patient outcomes through evidence-based care processes,” Dr. Alesia Coe, associate director of Patient Care Service, said in a press release.

The Top Performer program recognizes hospitals for improving performance on evidence-based interventions that increase the chances of healthy outcomes for patients with certain conditions. 

• The Department of Veterans Affairs released access report findings in June, and Illiana’s report said there were no instances of fraudulent or deceptive practices. The reviews stemmed from problems at the Phoenix VA, and had a ripple effect through all VA facilities.

The access audit team learned that, on the day of the visit in May, there were 19,151 appointments scheduled; of those, 18,951 were scheduled within 30 days or less. That includes the local VA facility, as well as its five community-based outpatient clinics. Illiana serves about 34,000 veterans.

Illiana was one of 112 VA sites that received further review, but results of that review haven’t been released yet.

Challenges

While there have been a lot of accomplishments, Rivera noted there’s always room for improvement.

• One challenge this year is recruiting health-care providers. Illiana has 23 open positions throughout its area in central Illinois and west central Indiana. Candidates decline jobs for personal reasons, such as the location or the area not being a good fit for the family, Rivera said. The VA is working with Vermilion Advantage to recruit providers.

• Illiana will evaluate the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which went into effect in August. Veterans who live more than 40 miles from a medical facility or who have to wait 30 days for an appointment will have the chance to see a private provider. About a dozen veterans have elected to go elsewhere since November, Rivera said.

“We want the program to complement our services,” Rivera said.

• Illiana is expecting The Joint Commission, which accredits health-care organizations, to make an unannounced visit early this year. The commission will evaluate quality and environment of care, among other standards.

“We’re ready for it,” Rivera said. “We’re expecting to do well on The Joint Commission (report).”

• As for physical structures, work is continuing on two new Green Homes, which offer a home-like environment for veterans. Two have already been built, and the two new ones should open this summer. Each home can accommodate 10 veterans.

Planning has already begun on two more homes, for a total of six. The homes will offer specialized care, such as rehabilitation.

Also, groundbreaking should take place this year on an apartment complex on the Illiana campus.

The VA received approval in December 2011 to provide 65 one-, two-, and three-bedroom housing units and a 11,700-square-foot community center for homeless veterans and their families on 15 acres.

Illiana was one of 34 VA’s selected for this initiative, which is to assist homeless veterans and their families. The vouchers have been approved, and construction should start after winter.