FORT WALTON BEACH — The Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, a regional arm of the Department of Veterans Affairs, is putting six new health care teams in place to address veterans' concerns about access to VA health care, according to an announcement from Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Two of those teams will be coming to the Eglin VA clinic, located just outside the gates of Eglin Air Force Base in Shalimar, according to Mary Kay Gominger, interim chief of the community and public affairs service at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System.
In an email, Gominger said each of the teams coming to the Eglin clinic will comprise a primary care provider, a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse and a clerk. One of the teams will be dedicated to women's care, Gominger said.
Audiology services also are being added at the Eglin VA clinic, according to Gominger.
Gaetz, R-Fla., who represents the northwest part of the state in Congress, met individually with veterans in recent months and also hosted roundtable discussions with groups of veterans to hear about problems with VA health care.
"We noted multiple complaints about long wait times for appointments, discrepancies with medical records, and many other issues that negatively affected health care," Gaetz's director of military affairs, retired Air Force Capt. Nate Nelson, said in a video accompanying Gaetz's announcement.
Also among the complaints heard from veterans, Nelson said, was frustration with the numbers of physicians staffing local VA clinics and centers across the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System's service area. That area extends from Biloxi, Mississippi, where the VA operates a major medical facility, across 18 counties in coastal Alabama, Mississippi and Northwest Florida. The system operates community-based outpatient clinics in Mobile, Pensacola, near Eglin Air Force Base and in Panama City.
The clinics in Pensacola and Panama City, like the Eglin clinic, will be getting two new primary care teams, according to Gominger.
The Pensacola clinic will also be getting a "pain team" to provide comprehensive pain management services. The team will comprise a physician with special training in pain management, a clinical pharmacist, nurse practitioner, LPN, RN and a psychologist.
Also, all four community-based outpatient clinics will be getting clinical pharmacy specialists "to assist in managing chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol," Gominger said.
The moves to improve regional VA medical services come under the direction of Bryan Matthews, named Gulf Coast director in January. The improvements are a direct response to the veterans' staffing complaints, Gaetz said in his Monday announcement.
Matthews also will be implementing an electronic file exchange system to ensure patient records shared among regional facilities contain accurate and up-to-date information, Gaetz said.
The announcement of the new medical teams and data-sharing improvements comes less than a month after Matthews and other officials appeared for a town hall at the Eglin VA community clinic, located just outside the Eglin Air Force Base gate in Shalimar.
That meeting attracted more than 100 veterans and veterans' spouses, and marked Matthews' first appearance at a local VA town hall.