More than 200 people with health care concerns gathered for a town hall meeting Thursday at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin.
For about an hour, new director Maryalice Morro fielded questions and listened to comments.
Morro, a former Navy nurse and Philadelphia native in her fourth day on the job, said at the outset that her aim was to “focus on quality, safety and customer service.”
She added, “If you’re not happy with your care, we want to hear about it.”
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A dozen or so on hand shared personal frustrations with accessibility to the care they receive, and many of them complained about the appointment process.
“You can’t have good access without staff,” Morro said, “and we have a lot of vacancies in our staffing structure here. It’s a rural community and so sometimes it’s just hard to find doctors, nurses, clinicians and support staff that want to come to Dublin and work here.”
She said, however, there are new chiefs of medicine and surgery on board.
Morro told of a soon-to-open hospice center and of plans for a new mental-health outpatient clinic.
When the floor was opened to questions, one veteran asked, “Why does it take you people two and a half years to tell somebody that they have cancer?”
Morro offered the man her apologies and said “we certainly have implemented many, many policies and procedures to ensure that that will not occur.”
She told the man that the hospital would look into his case immediately.
The man then asked, “When are you gonna get some more American-speaking doctors?”
“I’m not going to answer that question, but thank you, sir,” Morro said. “All of our providers speak English.”
“There’s a language barrier,” the man went on.
“I understand,” Morro said. “Thank you.”
Another man, Army veteran Jeff Jones, said there were “good people” on the staff, but that “the affection level has been missing here for a long time.”
Jones said that in the past, hospital leadership was lacking.
“This is not a veteran-friendly VA,” he said.
Jones told Morro, “Not only do you have dissatisfied veterans, you have dissatisfied employees and ... we get substandard service.”
He suggested that Morro form a veterans advisory board to keep her informed of “the unadulterated truth with no chaser.”
Jones said, “You have a grave task ... to try to undo the mess.”
Morro thanked him for the suggestion and said she would “take that for consideration.”