Health insurance for military veterans is now accepted at Allen County Regional Hospital and at area physicians’ offices, Tony Thompson, hospital chief executive officer, told trustees at their meeting Tuesday night.
Legislation passed last year by Congress, the Veterans Choice Act, allows veterans who live at least 40 miles from a VA medical facility or are forced to wait longer than 30 days to see a doctor, to receive care at their local clinic or hospital. The nearest VA hospital is in Topeka.
The insurance plan is called Veterans Choice, he said, and takes a minimal amount of time in which to enroll.
Thompson said he would be making the rounds at area VFW groups to tell them the news.
MAINTAINING a steady number of patients is a constant problem for the hospital, including dictating the level of care it can provide.
The hospital’s ICU, intensive care unit, is “temporarily closed,” said Patty McGuffin, chief nursing officer, because not enough patients consistently need the higher level of care needed there. Keeping the skills necessary among staff to care for ICU patients, therefore, suffers.
“At this time, we don’t enough clinical competencies in our nursing staff to keep an ICU open,” McGuffin said.
When members of the board appeared uneasy with the situation, Brian Wolfe, a local physician, helped explain the situation.
“In the city, there are nurses who work full-time in an ICU unit,” which demands unique skills. “If we had ICU patients all the time, our physicians and nurses would gain a comfort level in taking care of these patients,” he said.
Sean McReynolds, a dentist in Humboldt and who serves on the hospital’s board of trustees, said, “For surgeons in a city hospital, they’ll do certain procedures time after time. But in a rural hospital, those opportunities don’t occur. When you don’t have that level of repetition, you get rusty fast.”
Wolfe added, “One of the most important competencies is to realize when things are going south. Nurses have gotten me out of trouble so many times because they notice when things are going wrong. In ICU, the need for those skills is even more critical.”
The path to re-opening the ICU is by having on staff a full-time surgeon and OB-GYN, Thompson said. “Those recruiting efforts remain a priority.”
Currently, four surgeons from other hospitals have privileges at ACRH. They are general surgeons, Scott Coates, Ralph Hall, and Leslie Landau, and orthopedic surgeon Shane Fejfar.
THE NEWS by Gov. Sam Brownback to shutter the Health Homes program after only 18 months is a setback to the health care industry, Thompson said.
Providing comprehensive health care is a goal of local physicians and those in mental health.
Health Homes coordinated services for the indigent with mental health needs. The next phase of the program was to then include those with physical needs.
Locals remain undeterred, Wolfe said.
“At a time when the state is trying to back out of it, we’re looking to moving forward with it,” he said.
Not only does comprehensive care keep people healthier, it also saves money, he said. “Preventive medicine is very cost-effective.”
Wolfe said Nathan Fawson of the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center has been instrumental in implementing Health Homes to the area.
“Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re going to borrow what Nathan has learned,” Wolfe said.
The goal is for the hospital, local physicians and those in mental health to work together in providing comprehensive care for those in need.
“The program assigns a case manager to an individual who is not likely to follow up on his health care by himself,” Wolfe said. “Sometimes, that may mean simply providing them transportation to get to an appointment. Or in the cases of those with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, that they keep on top of their medications to ensure they are at the proper levels to head off any crises.”