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A vehicle moves along a parade of American flags at the Roseburg VA Medical campus on Veterans Day in 2017.

Until last month, the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center was ranked one of the worst in the country by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was one of 15 on a list of high-risk VA facilities.

Now, it’s been taken off that high-risk list and appears to be well on its way to doubling its rating from one star to two.

In recent years, staff morale has been low at the VA, in part due to a pattern of whistle-blower retaliation and harassment. Patient morale has been low, too, due to high doctor turnover and long wait lists.

Former director Doug Paxton inherited those conditions in 2014, and set out to improve the ratings. At first, he seemed to be delivering, as the VA’s one-star rating jumped to two in 2016. That two-star rating slipped through his fingers, dropping back to one star in 2017, and then, following allegations he was at the head of a toxic management culture, his job slipped through his fingers, too.

Interim Director Dave Whitmer has been able to get things headed in the right direction again. But what the future holds for the Roseburg VA is anyone’s guess.

It still has a long way to go to receive the four- or five-star rating that would indicate it’s performing at the level of excellence our veterans deserve.

Perhaps nothing is more critical at this juncture than the decision-making process currently underway to find a permanent director for the facility. Whitmer always said his time here would be short, and it’s nearing an end.

When a permanent replacement is chosen, we need him or her to be the kind of director who will avoid all the tired, old excuses of directors past. Plenty of medical professionals want to work here, as long as they’re not driven off by poor management. Keeping them here will keep wait lists shorter. Having competent leadership and keeping well-qualified staff will boost everything from patient and staff morale to safety and best treatment for veterans. That’s the path toward many stars.

Next year, two stars could become one, or three, depending on what happens next.

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