The national Department of Veterans Affairs has dropped its star ranking system under which VA hospitals across the country were given one to five stars.
That news was among the information shared by Roseburg VA staff at a town hall Wednesday evening.
The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center had alternated between one and two stars under the system.
Sarah Teeter, veteran experience officer for the Roseburg VA, said the VA found the star rating was misleading. Many thought it was giving them information about how their local VA hospitals compared with non-VA hospitals, she said.
“It was determined that it often went to misinterpretation, that people were comparing it to a rating on Yelp or like how people look on Amazon and it says this vendor’s a five-star vendor. So people were interpreting that as being good or bad,” she said.
Teeter said the star ranking was only intended to compare different VA facilities with each other.
In January, the stars will be gone, she said. Instead, the VA is providing information about how each VA performs compared with other local medical facilities and other VAs.
The reporting includes details such as access, comparative rates of MRSA infection and whether doctors ask patients about their stress levels.
The Roseburg VA downgraded its emergency department to a five day a week urgent care in August.
Associate Director Ryan Baker said the VA hopes to hire the support staff necessary to expand the urgent care to seven days a week. But he said without those staff members, patients will be safer going to private urgent cares on the weekend for now.
The only in-network urgent care in Douglas County that’s open on the weekend is the Umpqua Health Newton Creek on Northeast Stephens Street.
Heidi Thompson, from the Office of Community Care, said the VA will begin taking over authorizing and scheduling care veterans receive from outside providers in January.
Veterans had been required to contact TriWest, the company coordinating the care, and have them schedule appointments for outside care. Thompson said the VA is working on eventually making it possible for veterans to call outside providers directly to schedule appointments.
“We’re looking at different options to be able to kind of eliminate the middle man as much as possible,” Thompson said.
TriWest will continue to work on building the network of private providers in the VA’s network, she said.
Veterans have been making 350 ER visits at community hospitals per week, Thompson said. Veterans at previous town halls had voiced concerns about whether their bills would be paid if they went to those ERs. Thompson said the VA has approved paying the bill for 98% of those visits.
She said it’s easier to get reimbursement now than it was in the past. The requirements are that the hospital be in the VA’s network, that the VA be notified within 72 hours and that a prudent layperson would have believed the patient’s symptoms were an emergency.
In response to veteran questions about what the prudent layperson standard means, she said if you feel you’re experiencing an emergency you probably are. She used the example of her husband who had a health scare in which he was slurring his words. They thought he was having a stroke, but it turned out to be a migraine. That’s a layperson’s idea of an emergency, and that would be covered, she said.
Chief of Staff Marlene Hassenfratz said new primary care providers have been hired and the VA is working on attracting more providers. Women Veterans Program Manager Jessica Burnett said new women’s health care providers have also been hired.
Hassenfratz said the VA is also enhancing its medical education department so it can train smart, eager young physicians at the VA with the hope that they will choose to stay in Southern Oregon.
In response to concerns raised at a previous town hall, Hassenfratz said the VA will coordinate with community providers to provide lung cancer testing for veterans at risk.
She also responded to a veteran asking about increasing chiropractic and acupuncture services by saying she wants to expand the VA’s whole health program.