DANVILLE — It was a busy year at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, and leaders expect that momentum to continue into 2018.
“I think we got a lot accomplished,” director Stephanie Young said, looking back.
Providing quality care and good customer service continue to be the focus, she said. “We want veterans to ‘Choose VA,’” she said, citing its slogan.
Employees at the VA Illiana — many of whom are veterans themselves — understand issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Melissa A. Spady, health system specialist with the director’s office.
“We feel lucky to have an inpatient mental health service here,” she said.
People are surprised about all of the services that are offered at the VA, Young said, adding, “They have no idea what we do.”
With more than 1,500 employees, the Danville VA is the largest employer in the area. Last year, it was listed the 34th best place to work out of 140 VA facilities across the country.
The Illiana System — which includes outpatient clinics in Peoria, Springfield, Mattoon and Decatur — is always trying to improve its services for both veterans and staff, Young said.
One way to do that is through the “Shark Tank” competition that allows VA employees to submit their best ideas and innovations, which can be adopted at other sites to streamline processes and improve experiences of veterans and their families, as well as staff. In 2017, VA Illiana submitted 10 innovations, and two made it to the semi-finalist stage.
Also, the Illiana System was recognized by the National Center for Patient Safety with the VA Patient Safety “Gold Cornerstone” Award for outstanding achievement in identifying, analyzing and resolving patient safety issues.
• A big focus of Illiana is reaching out to veterans, staff and the community. There’s even an Outreach Committee to ensure that the VA’s mission gets out to the community. Young and other employees are available to address groups.
Nine veteran town hall meetings were conducted across the Illiana System last year, and more are scheduled for this year.
Also, a phone-a-thon was held in August in an effort to make contact with veterans who have been inactive in the system within a two-year window. The callers made contact with 142 veterans, Spady said, and the phone-a-thon will be held again this year.
• In an effort to make the veteran experience easier, the Danville VA instituted an ambassador program in the lobbies of Buildings 98 and 58. Volunteers and paid workers greet visitors and direct them to the appropriate services.
For those who need help getting around, eight scooters are available — four at each building. The scooters were donated by local veterans’ organizations.
Veterans with appointments may check out the speed-controlled scooters after agreeing to the rules.
Young said she’s heard a lot of nice comments from veterans about the ambassador program.
• Another accomplishment in 2017 was offering direct scheduling in audiology and optometry. That means, in most instances, veterans don’t need a referral from their primary care doctor, and they can directly schedule themselves. This year, Podiatry Clinic, Nutrition Clinic and Wheelchair and Mobility Clinics and Amputee clinics also will offer direct scheduling.
• A campaign was launched last year called #BeThere, focusing on awareness of suicide prevention.
Ending veteran suicide is the VA’s top clinical priority, Young said. “Working with our community partners and other suicide prevention organizations (will) ensure that we are equipped to serve veterans and save lives,” she said.
The 24-hour crisis line number — (800) 273-8255 — is being widely distributed in an effort to reach veterans who may be at risk of suicide.
• On the housing front, two major projects were completed in 2017. Cannon Place was dedicated in April. The 65 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless and at-risk veterans and their families filled quickly. The project was built by Mercy Housing Lakefront. Illiana is one of 34 VA facilities to have enhanced-use leases for projects to house homeless veterans.
Also in April, two Green House Project homes were dedicated — Honor and Valor. That makes four 10-resident homes on the west side of the VA campus. The facilities offer a home-like atmosphere.
The first two homes, named Freedom and Liberty, were completed in December 2011 and January 2012, respectively.
The fifth and sixth homes have completed design, and should open in fiscal year 2020 or 2021.
In addition, the audiology department moved to a renovated space in Building 98 last year.
• In August, a dedication ceremony celebrated the land swap between Danville Area Community College and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. DACC acquired the century-old Carnegie Library behind the Bremer Center, while the VA took possession of the gazebo and some land on the south end of campus.
• The first community tour of the campus took place in early November, with visitors on buses learning the history of the 119-year-old campus, and how the VA has changed with the times to meet veterans’ needs.
• Other accomplishments: the first Memorial Day neighborhood picnic was in the pavilion, the VA participated in Wreaths Across America, a mental health summit was held in Peoria and Chief of Staff, Dr. Dean Shoucair, came on board. Also, VA Illiana started a podiatry and psychiatry residency program.
The VA plans to continue the programs serving veterans and staff, while adding some new projects.
• One of the more exciting projects is a new inpatient mental health building, which will be erected across the road from Building 58. Designs are completed for the 22-bed project, and construction should be finished in fiscal year 2020 or 2021.
The inpatient mental health unit is in desperate need of renovations, Young said.
• A perimeter security fence, with gates, for the campus is being planned, with construction to start in fiscal year 2019. The front part on Main Street will look attractive, and the rest will be a chain-link fence. There will be a guard station, which will be manned only in an emergency.
• The endoscopy suite will be renovated, probably at the end of fiscal year 2019.
• An adult day care in Building 101 is expected to open this summer.
• A project involving roads, curbs and gutters will be finished this spring. Maintenance projects will continue, such as water tower repairs and updating the electrical system.
• A Whole Health System initiative is being fine-tuned. Eight programs are already in place, including acupuncture, biofeedback, guided imagery, hypnosis, massage therapy for Community Living Center patients, meditation, tai chi and yoga. These services are being better coordinated.
Young explained that care for the veteran involves not just medication, but also preventative services. The Whole Health System emphasizes self-care in the larger context of well-being, incorporating a full range of conventional and complementary and integrative health approaches.
• This summer, a new outpatient clinic will open in Decatur and one is anticipated to open in McLean County in 2019.
• Learn more at the Danville VA’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/VADanville.
• The Veterans Crisis Line is (800) 273-8255 for veterans who are at risk of suicide.