VA describes new hospital contract details to Island veterans

Public Affairs Officer Tom Antonaccio, Dr. Monty VanBeber, Associate Chief of Staff for Community-Based Outpatient Clinics and Eileen Kirshenbaum, Veterans Coordinator described the program to Island veterans. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Representatives from the Providence VA Medical Center (VAMC) and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) met with Island veterans at the American Legion hall in Vineyard Haven Wednesday, to discuss the details of a long awaited contract that will enable veterans to receive local medical services.

The new contract, effective October 3, provides eligible local veterans with enhanced services that include basic lab work and diagnostic imaging on the Island, without the need for pre-approval by the VAMC.

“The important thing today is that we’re here; the important thing today is that the radiological, diagnostic, and good primary care are here,” Congressman William Keating told the audience of about 60 people.

Mr. Keating, who is running for re-election, spent the day on the Island and included the VA meeting in his stops. He thanked the veterans for their service.

Public Affairs Officer Tom Antonaccio led a panel discussion with representatives from the Providence VAMC, who discussed their roles in the healthcare system. The team included Dr. Monty VanBeber, Associate Chief of Staff for Community-Based Outpatient Clinics; Dr. Rob LiCalzi, Chief, Outpatient Pharmacy; Eleanor McLaughlin, Nurse Manager, Hyannis CBOC; Eileen Kirshenbaum, My HealtheVet Coordinator; Allen Andersen, Telehealth Nurse; Lorrie Baines, Contracting Officer; and Cheryl Belisle,Veterans Service Representative.

The VA group answered questions about what the new contract provides and described additional services available to veterans. Those include eBenefits, an online resource for benefits-related information, and Telehealth, a care management system for high-risk patients with chronic disease.

MVH director of physician services, Jay Ferriter, also attended the meeting and answered questions specific to the hospital’s role.

Veteran Nelson Smith of Edgartown said one of the biggest problems for himself and other World War Two veterans has been a lack of communication between the VA and MVH since the time the original VA contract started in 2000.

“For example, if you go in [to MVH] for any cause whatsoever, the VA never learns a damn thing about it until you’re dead or you’re lucky it’s over with,” Mr. Smith said. “What I’m trying to ask you, is how does our hospital communicate with the VA so that everything is on the same record for each veteran?”

Mr. Antonaccio said communication was definitely one of the frustrations in the previous contract, and that it was one of the areas of focus in the new one. Rather than just issue the new contract, he said the Providence VAMC team made the trip to the Vineyard and spent two hours earlier that day meeting with the hospital leadership and some of the primary care providers, to make sure everyone was on the same page. From now on, Mr. Antonaccio said Island doctors would provide copies of veterans’ treatment and progress notes to go into the VA’s electronic healthcare records.

For several years, a lapsed contract between the VA and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital meant Island veterans with a VA health plan needed to receive pre-approval through a clinic manager in Hyannis in order to obtain medical treatment and prescriptions on Martha’s Vineyard.

Depending on their service-connected disability rating, many veterans had to travel to the Providence VAMC or to the Hyannis Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) for health care services.

Many factors have changed since the first contract, including that MVH became an affiliate of the Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare in 2007. As a result, the Providence VAMC and MVH had been negotiating a new contract for veterans eligible for VA care.

The lengthy contract process involved multiple steps and reviews on both sides. Over the past year, the Dukes County commissioners and county executive manager’s office leant their support to Director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy and took up the veterans’ cause. They were joined by Congressman Keating, his aide, Lance Lambros, and Representative Tim Madden in pushing the VA to speed up the process.

Congressman Keating thanked everyone, including Mr. Antonaccio, whom he acknowledged was caught in the middle, but tried to do the best that he could.

With less than a month left to go before the November elections, Congressman Keating also took the opportunity to remind his constituents of the role he played in bringing the contract to fruition.

Before he left the meeting early to catch a ferry, Congressman Keating told the audience, “A last thought, for now, and to keep in mind for the future is, our veterans left their homes to defend us elsewhere, and they shouldn’t have to leave their homes unnecessarily to get healthcare.”