Idaho’s veteran population is changing.
They age. They are becoming more diverse, as more women, people of color, and LGBTQ military personnel enter the military. And they are seeking different types of treatment, such as long-term and mental health care, in different parts of the state.
New recommendations to overhaul and modernize the health care the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides to those who served have been sent to the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR) last month. They show that more veterans are expected to enroll in VA services in most parts of Idaho, and that mental health care, long-term care, and outpatient services are in high demand with a trajectory which shouldn’t change anytime soon. An increased demand for hospital and surgical services has also been noted for the southwestern and northern part of Gem State.
Compiling the recommendations was no small feat.
The VA conducted a nationwide assessment of its health care system, analyzed extensive internal data, interviewed leaders at every VA medical center across the country, held listening sessions with veterans, and consulted with service organizations. to veterans.
The ultimate goal? Building a 21st century healthcare network with the right facilities, in the right places, to provide the right care to all veterans, including underserved and at-risk populations, according to the VA.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen in the next week or months, but these recommendations that they’ve made will materialize over the next few years,” said David Wood, director of Boise VA Medical Center.
The report emphasized the changing dynamics of how to place services close to population centers where most veterans can access care – and building partnerships with other healthcare providers. while investing in telehealth offerings for places like rural Idaho.
“We are working to achieve this through a variety of avenues to meet the health needs of (veterans) in rural settings,” Bret Bowers, spokesman for the Mann-Grandstaff VAMC in Spokane, said in an emailed statement.
For example, veterans can access care at Sandpoint through a rural health clinic five days a week, and the VA operates a mobile medical unit that travels to different locations in Idaho to improve access, it said. -he declares. There are also programs through the VA Connected Care Office that can provide veterans with technology like iPads to set up and access telehealth services, Bowers said.
What happens next with VA recommendations?
President Joe Biden, the US Congress and the AIR Commission — a bipartisan body whose members are appointed by the president and approved by Congress — will review the recommendations and determine whether they will be accepted and implemented, according to the website of the GO.
Veterans are encouraged to attend public hearings that the AIR Commission will hold as it travels across the country to visit VA facilities during this review period.
After that, the AIR Commission will forward the recommendations, with necessary modifications, to Biden. The Biden administration will then determine whether to submit those recommendations to Congress for funding consideration. This process could take several years.
The recommendations that affect Idaho’s three local VA markets fall under two of the VA Veterans Integrated Service Networks, or regional systems of care: VISN 19which covers eastern Idaho, and VISN 20which covers southwestern and northern Idaho.
Here are some of the changes outlined in those reports that veterans in every region of the state should be aware of.
Proposed Changes That Would Affect Veterans in Eastern Idaho
Veterans in eastern Idaho depend largely on the care of clinics in Pocatello and Idaho Falls VA and the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center, which could undergo major renovations and upgrades in accordance with recommendations from the VA to the AIR Commission.
For the Pocatello Clinic, the report recommends adding more home-based primary care services, which allows veterans to receive care in their own home for things like chronic illness or mobility issues that might make it harder to get to a doctor’s office.
He also recommends fully staffing the Pocatello Clinic’s physical therapy services for the first time.
“The Pocatello (clinic) was built with a space dedicated to physiotherapy, but it was not activated due to lack of funding for the full-time (employees) needed,” the report said. “The total market demand for physiotherapy from veterans is expected to increase significantly, so staffing the program will reduce the need to rely on physiotherapy services in the community.”
The report also details major upgrades for the Salt Lake City VA, which was first built in 1949 and last remodeled in 1988.
Improvements include the addition of a new tower for new hospital beds, as well as the construction of a new Rest house to meet the increased demand for long-term care and reduce reliance on this type of care from private companies in the region.
Proposed Changes That Would Affect Southwest Idaho Veterans
Wood said many of the recommendations presented in the report to the AIR Commission for the southern Idaho domestic market, which includes medical facilities in Salmon, Twin Falls, Mountain Home, Boise, Caldwell and eastern Idaho. ‘Oregon is largely following the goals that its market is already actively working toward.
Some of the most significant changes in the Southern Idaho market will include the expansion of the Caldwell VA Clinic and the closing and relocation of the Twin Falls VA Clinic.
To better distribute care across VA facilities in Treasure Valley, the report recommends expanding the Caldwell Outpatient Clinic. The addition of physical therapy and audiology services in Canyon County will reduce some of the demand for these services in Boise VA, according to the report.
“We are currently designing and planning to build a new community clinic in Caldwell over the next year that will be double the size of the current clinic,” Wood said. “That … plays into the recommendations that were presented to the commission. Almost all of the recommendations that have been made regarding our market are really where we are going and where we have been going for some time.
He said the VA hopes to open the expanded Caldwell facility in 2023.
Developing partnerships for primary care and telehealth options for veterans using VA facilities in the Ontario/Weiser regions would also help reduce demand for services at the Caldwell Clinic and Boise VA, according to the report.
In Twin Falls, the community outpatient clinic will be moved to a larger building to expand primary care options and mental health services, Wood said. The current facility is undersized at 4,200 square feet, and the land it sits on, which is owned by the city, prevents it from being renovated and expanded in its current location. The renovation will include new state-of-the-art equipment that could help recruit and retain doctors and nurses in the area, the report and Wood said.
“We haven’t gone far enough to know what the location (will be) will be,” he said. “I anticipate that it would be more than twice the size of the current clinic and that the current services there as well, as with the Caldwell (clinic), it would continue to increase the number of telehealth type services that are offered the.”
In Boise, the recommendations call for the expansion of the dental clinic in Boise VA. Demand for these services is expected to grow 55.6% by 2029, and the ability to meet growing demand without expansion is limited, according to the report.
The report says significant changes could be made to the Salmon VA clinic in central Idaho. Due to the lower number of veterans enrolling there compared to what is required for a full community outpatient clinic, he recommends that the Salmon VA clinic be upgraded to a smaller clinic with fewer services. The report indicates that the VA will continue to study the sustainability of the site.
Proposed Changes That Would Affect Northern Idaho Veterans
Many of the significant changes recommended for the northern domestic market affect Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane or Walla Walla Medical Center, although the VA also operates facilities in Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston and Sandpoint.
The report recommends the Walla Walla Medical Center cut primary care and mental health services, “which could result in the reclassification of VAMC as a (community outpatient clinic),” the report said. “VA has experienced an ongoing challenge in recruiting and retaining clinical staff.”
Some of the specialized care veterans received in Walla Walla can be transferred an hour’s drive to Richland, Washington, where there is a larger population of veterans who use the VA.
For Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, the report suggests establishing more strategic collaborations with other local hospitals and clinics for inpatient and surgical services, and discontinuing these services in Spokane due to low demand. .
The report also recommends consolidating the Walla Walla and Spokane administrative teams into one team to save money.
The report recommends adding audiology services to the Coeur d’Alene facility.
“Opening audiology services in Cd’A Idaho would improve access for many veterans and reduce the number of veterans seeking community care due to the drive time to the audiology clinic in Spokane VAMC,” Bowers said in an email. “This would further improve the timeliness of care offered here at the Spokane VAMC Audiology Clinic.”
— Christina Lords is the editor of the Idaho Capital Sun. This article originally published on idahocapitalsun.com.