Fallin Tours Veterans Hospital

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 2:27 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Veterans Affairs Medical Center, one of many VA facilities being examined for potential problems, is providing high-quality care to patients, U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin said Friday.

The Oklahoma Republican visited the Oklahoma City hospital four days after she and seven other members of Congress toured the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

A report last month by the Washington Post told of roach-infested conditions and shoddy outpatient care at Walter Reed, one of the nation's premier facilities for treating those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the report, the VA ordered its 1,400 hospitals and clinics to report on the quality of their facilities to determine if squalid conditions found at Walter Reed exist elsewhere. Fallin said it was important to her to make sure the 169-bed Oklahoma City facility _ which has been in operation for 53 years _ was in good condition.

``We haven't had any complaints about our VA centers and medical centers here in Oklahoma,'' she said following her tour of the facility, which lasted about an hour. ``Are there things we can improve upon? Certainly. So I wanted to come to the center today to visit with the staff, visit with the patients, look firsthand at our facilities, the quality of care, the quality of maintenance that we have in Oklahoma.''

She said systems are in place at the hospital to routinely monitor the quality of patient care and maintenance, and praised Robert McCaffree, the hospital's chief of staff.

``Dr. McCaffree told me that he is dedicated to a culture of continuous improvement,'' Fallin said. ``We need to have that in all of our VA facilities around the nation, that we're constantly looking at the products and the services and the level of care that we're giving to our veterans.''

David Wood, the hospital's director, said that upon hearing of the problems at Walter Reed, ``certainly, I had concern about whether anything similar was within the hospitals that I manage.''

Wood said that the hospital's ``environment of care'' is assessed every two weeks.

``In the past week, because of what has been going on at Walter Reed, we've done a review of all the patient-care areas'' at the hospital and its community-based clinics in Lawton, north Oklahoma City, Konawa, Ponca City, Ardmore, Clinton and Wichita Falls, Texas. ``I'm very pleased with the fact that we found things clean. I talk to patients regularly, and I think in general they're pleased with the care they get here''

Among the patients Fallin visited with Friday was Edward Gumas of Altus, a 37-year-old Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf War who underwent triple-bypass heart surgery at the hospital on Monday. By Friday, he was preparing to be released.

``They did a really good job,'' Gumas said of the hospital staff. ``The doctors, they were always checking up on me. The nurses, if one nurse wasn't here, another one was. If one chaplain wasn't here, another one was. Everybody was always in here for me. ... Everybody was always making sure I was all right.''

Another veteran at the hospital, 23-year-old retired Army Cpl. James Stuck _ who lost part of his right leg while fighting in northern Iraq in December 2005 _ praised his level of care while he was at Walter Reed. Stuck, who served with the 101st Airborne Division based out of Fort Campbell, Ky., said he did not have ``any problems whatsoever'' with his living quarters at that hospital.

He also praised the attitude of the workers at the Oklahoma City VA hospital.

``It's great to see that everybody in Congress, the military and everybody else is taking care of the growing families, the growing population of the military and everything that's coming along with it,'' Stuck said.

Fallin said it seemed to her that the problems at Walter Reed were a ``system failure of maintenance'' in one building not on that hospital's main campus. She said that ``one of the things I did find out on my visit to Walter Reed is that we need to do a better job in our government system of processing our veterans (and) our injured soldiers coming back in a more timely manner.''

She cited problems veterans told her they had experienced, such as excess paperwork, dealing with insurance issues and a lack of communication from medical staff about patient treatment.

``But in visiting with our veterans here ... they have told me that their level of care at this facility has been excellent, that the doctors and the nurses produce quality service, that they follow up in a quick manner, and that the services are very good,'' Fallin said.

``I'm pleased with the level of care here in Oklahoma. I think our staffs are doing a great job. They acknowledge that there's always a need for continuous improvement ... and I like that attitude in Oklahoma in our facilities. Frankly, I'm not surprised by it.''