Lexington’s VA hospital working to improve access to care

Time is of the essence when it comes to diagnosing and treating certain health conditions.
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 3:57 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Time is of the essence when it comes to diagnosing and treating certain health conditions. In some cases, the time you wait for an appointment can be the difference between life and death.

The Department of Veterans Affairs website now offers an up-to-date look at wait times at VA facilities across the country.

“We look at that information, so we know where our longest wait times are so we can drill down to say these are the areas or these are the specialties where we need to look at maximizing our efficiencies, our space, or extend our hours,” said Phillip Branham, assistant director of the Lexington VA Health Care System.

Many Kentucky veterans rely on the VA hospital for care and services.

Branham says they’re constantly trying to streamline the process, reduce redundancies and make it easier for those traveling long distances.

“We try to bundle appointments when we can to make sure that it’s a one-day thing, but that’s also a long day when you’re talking five hours on the road,” Branham said. “We’re also trying to maximize our transportation service, for veterans that do have trouble getting transportation to and from the VA.”

Programs like physical therapy, which get utilized a lot, are now being shared amongst all four of their community clinics in Berea, Hazard, Morehead and Somerset to help cut down on wait times and make care more accessible.

“We serve veterans in central and eastern Kentucky. Hazard is two and a half hours away, and we understand that’s a hardship. So, anytime we can expand services to our Hazard community clinic or utilize telehealth in a way that makes sense and is safe, we’re going to continue to do that,” Branham said.

Some specialties, like mammography, don’t have as much demand since there are fewer female veterans, so those appointments get referred out into the community.

He says neurology is an area that has been difficult to recruit and retain. He says they’re very fortunate for their partnership with UK Hospital, sharing resources and specialists for their patients.

In Lexington, existing patients, who have visited in the last three years, can get in to see a primary care physician in about three to five days. New patients may wait a few weeks.

Other specialties see longer wait times for new patients, typically between 40 to 60 days while established patients can be seen within five to 20 days.

One of the biggest challenges is overcoming prior experiences. He says some veterans left the VA system decades ago, because of a poor or negative experience and never returned.

He says now is the time to give them another chance and, thanks to the PACT Act, more veterans will be eligible for the benefits.

“We’re not perfect but we have opportunities to improve every aspect of what we do here every day, but we’re open to that.”

Branham says there’s no better job than providing quality care, to our nation’s heroes.

“Our staff are drawn to the VA, the mission of the VA, it’s not just about money, which is also a blessing,” Branham said. “A lot of our providers could work in the private sector and make two and three and four times what they make here, but they really understand our mission and understand veterans.”