LEEDS, Mass., March 1, 2011 -- Information technology solutions to integrate patient records and identifying priority areas for the expansion of clinical services are two of the many key areas that VA officials are examining in planning for the realignment of central and western Massachusetts VA facilities into one entity.
In January, the New England VA Healthcare System received approval to officially realign the Fitchburg and Worcester Community Based Outpatient Clinics, or CBOCs, under the Northampton VA Medical Center.
The proposed new healthcare system will provide a greater focus of care for Veterans in central and western Massachusetts, will bring the area under unified leadership, and will improve access to specialty care for Veterans by making services available closer to home.
The system will also create a larger base for the VA to partner with University of Massachusetts Medical School to develop expanded clinical, education and research activities.
The target date for the realignment is October 2011.
Since the January announcement, a steering committee has formed and has met twice. Several work groups consisting of staff from throughout the VA New England Health Care System have also met.
“Right now, we’re looking at key action items of which there are many moving parts,” said Roger Johnson, committee chair and Northampton VA Medical Center director. “Anytime you consolidate systems, the implementation is going to be complex, but everyone is giving this the attention it deserves, and we’ll work through the challenges between now and October.”
The Fitchburg and Worcester CBOCs are currently aligned with Bedford VA Medical Center and Boston VA Healthcare System respectively. Outpatient clinics in Springfield, Greenfield and Pittsfield currently fall under Northampton.
Most daunting for committee members is addressing the many IT solutions for integrating patient records and other information from Boston and Bedford into the Northampton system. From telephone voice mail to creating new email groups and IT networks, IT has built a list of task to be accomplished. The workgroup met staff at the Worcester CBOC recently and is looking at training opportunities during the next six months of planning.
“Being able to access records and communicate between offices is key in making this realignment transparent,” said Johnson. “That’s a big focus for us – ensuring this goes as smoothly as possible.”
The other workgroups and their key areas of focus are:
Service operations. The workgroup is currently looking at existing services in Worcester and Springfield, where the two highest concentrations of Veterans in the region live. The workgroup will identify priority areas for the expansion of services. Infrastructure requirements are particularly pressing in both locations and in Fitchburg as the increase in patients has outgrown or will outgrow the physical space needed.
Workgroup members are also scheduling several different meetings with clinical teams to share information.
Human resources. The workgroup is focused on integrating pay schedules and the recruitment of additional personnel to assist in the realignment and with future expansion needs. HR also emphasized during the last steering committee meeting that no employee will see their pay decrease as a result of the realignment because of any locality pay differentials between the Worcester and Northampton areas.
Fiscal. The workgroup is identifying the costs associated with the realignment, how to fund staffing requirements that may be needed, and building a new regional financial statement.
Communications. The workgroup is developing communication strategies such as regular information updates on the realignment to keep employees and Veterans informed.
The goal with realignment is improving access to specialty care for Veterans by making services available closer to home in central and western Massachusetts – an area that has traditionally been underserved.
Veterans who prefer to keep their specialty providers at the more distant sites will be allowed to keep these arrangements and existing shuttles between the sites will not be discontinued because of the realignment.
VA New England Healthcare System is also in talks to strengthen its academic affiliation with University of Massachusetts Medical School. The affiliation will help the VA recruit and retain specialists and other care providers for VA facilities in central and western Massachusetts.
For previous news reports and articles about realignment, visit the Central and Western Massachusetts VA Realignment Web Page at http://www.newengland.va.gov/ma_clinics/.
Veterans with questions and comments can send an email to John Paradis, public relations manager for Northampton VA Medical Center at email@example.com, or call him at (413) 582-3005.