Brown leaving VAMC today
09/25/2013 - The Journal. By Jenni Vincent.
MARTINSBURG - Nearly six years after coming here from Tennessee, Martinsburg VA Medical Center Director Ann Brown is saying goodbye to staff and veterans - as she prepares to head to a similar position in Chicago, Ill.
Federal Department of Veterans Affairs officials announced earlier this month that Brown had been named medical director of the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. Although the announced departure date was Sept. 27, that was moved up slightly and today marks her last day on the job in Martinsburg.
News traveled quickly and it didn't take long for word of Brown's imminent departure to spread locally.
Walking down a hallway, Brown smiles and stops to talk with people wishing her well - a mixture of employees and veterans - before she leaves. But she's also returned the favor by making time for others who've made her tenure successful, including sharing some pizza with employees during a recent lunch hour.
"I was just saying thank you," Brown said.
Since she's come to appreciate - and love - the close-knit, local community, it will be an adjustment to begin working in an large urban area at a downtown hospital, Brown said.
But it's the right thing to do and the timing is also good, according to Brown, who is proud of what's been accomplished under her leadership, as well as changes that will continue to occur even after she is gone.
A strong proponent of the team concept, Brown readily explains that many of the accomplishments were the result of others who shared a vision and worked hard to make it a reality.
"This was my first director assignment, and I have to tell you that this hospital - including the staff, volunteers and Congressional support - has been phenomenal. Don't let Jesse Brown know, but there will always be a special place in me for this hospital," she said.
"In my VA travels, I've not experienced anything quite like this. This is a unique, special hospital," Brown said.
The catchment area includes 22 counties in four states and has about 130,000 veterans within it with approximately 35,000 of those individuals seen on a regular basis.
Brown said the goal is for patients to be seen within seven days of when they want to be seen - including specialties.
"When they are referred, if you want to see the podiatrist, we shoot for having you see the podiatrist in seven days. It's not 99 percent like our primary care is, but we do our best," Brown said, adding that data is kept by the hospital to verify these patient results.
Although there were about 1,300 employees when Brown arrived in January 2008, that figure has now grown by approximately 300 staffers and it is due to "growing our programs," she said.
For example, a dermatologist was recently hired and the facility has grown into an intermediate level surgical program. Other additions include telehealth and opening the seventh community-based clinic to serve veterans outside the immediate area, Brown said.
Patient-aligned care teams have also been implemented in an effort to provide better care, she said, adding, "We are very much patient-centered here, so we've added a lot of staff in that arena - to allow for a full team of dedicated staff for every veteran. In fact, we're ahead of the rest of the VA in terms of moving that into mental health and our medical sub specialties."
Veterans who are returning from various deployments, as well as women veterans, have also been an important priority when looking at needed services, Brown said.
Post 9-11 programs, including Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom, were initiated during her tenure and treatment includes even more service professionals such as social workers because "these folks have multiple, multiple issues," she said.
"When we built the Hope Center, which is a 30,000-plus square foot building, we pulled all of our mental health programs together in one building - bringing specialists together to be patient-centered and patient-aligned. That allows for cross-functional treatment and communication among providers, because a veteran coming back today isn't just depressed. If you're homeless, the chances are also very strong that you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issues, substance abuse issues and family issues," Brown said.
There is also a separate space dedicated for the women's clinic and this type of service is available at the seven community clinics, she said.
While there are plenty of veteran success stories, they don't happen overnight or without a lot of effort, and relapses do happen in some cases.
"You don't just wake up one day all better," Brown said.
Facility expansion continues as well as building renovation, she said, adding that research - including demographics such as patient population and ages - is part of a strategic capital plan that tries to anticipate future veteran needs.
"Then we build to that end. For example, in 2020 we're going to need more audiology and dental space because the population is aging," she said.
There's also been an effort to consolidate the hospital's clinical services closer to the main floor, thus providing easier and more coordinated access for patients. That helps explain why the executive office suite was relocated to the sixth floor, a move that has been criticized by some who don't know the reason or years of planning behind it, Brown said. She said it was a move that was planned before she took office.
She is excited about future plans, including "green houses" that would provide long-term care in a more residential environment - perhaps a dozen veterans living there with their own kitchen, bedrooms and porch. A new women's pavilion is also in the planning phase, she said.
Another area on the hospital's first floor will soon become an Internet cafe, a concept that Brown was explaining when a housekeeping employee stopped to kid her about cheering for the University of Texas instead of being a West Virginia University Mountaineer fan. But he also wanted to get her email address for a final farewell comment.
"I really am going to miss her, she's a very nice lady. And about the school thing, I just agree to give her a pass on that because she's a great leader. I think we'll all miss her," Earl Hairston said with a smile toward Brown.