Touring Grand Junction's Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Thursday, Veterans Health Administration Chief of Staff Lawrence Connell came away impressed, but said there was one thing about the hospital and community that really stood out.
"What I'm most impressed with is the collegial and collaborative relationship we have with our community partners," he said. "I haven't seen anything like this, yet."
Connell, who serves as the senior adviser to the Under Secretary for Health, is visiting VA hospitals across the U.S. to make sure each facility is clear on the goals of the VA secretary. He said he was pleasantly surprised to see this VA already rolling out projects in line with the VA system's priorities. The VA Western Colorado Health Care System serves 37,000 veterans on the Western Slope, according to the department's website.
Later in the day, he went to Snowmass near Aspen to take in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
Connell previously ran the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and while he said there was often an adversarial relationship between the organization and community partners, he's seeing a different story in Grand Junction.
"I wish I could spread this across the VA," he said.
Connell also stressed the importance of telehealth as the future for rural health care for the VA, allowing patients in remote areas access to doctors in their home or somewhere in their town. The Grand Junction VA is already at the forefront of that effort, offering telehealth options in several areas throughout western Colorado and eastern Utah, which Connell was quick to point out.
"For a place like Grand Junction to support vets out there in the netherlands is the wave of the future, I think," he said.
Grand Junction VA director Michael Kilmer said Connell's visit was a sign that rural health is a priority for the VA system.
"I just think it shows the VA's commitment to rural health," Kilmer said. "For me, I think it shows national-level support in the community."
Ralph Gigliotti, director of the VA's Rocky Mountain Network, also was on hand for Connell's visit and is glad to see collaboration on multiple levels of the VA system. Gigliotti oversees VA hospitals in several states in the Rocky Mountain region.
"I think it illustrates the partnership from the field level to the region to central office. We're here for veterans to identify and remove barriers and to share and learn," he said.
He was also encouraged to hear Connell say he plans to take pieces used at the Grand Junction facility and recommend implementation at other rural hospitals.
"This is a well-run hospital," Gigliotti said.
Connell said the VA intends to continue supporting rural hospitals, such as the one in Grand Junction.
"One thing I learned in the Army is there are supporting commands and supported commands," he said. "These guys are the supported commands and it's our job to support them."