Veterans fought for their country, and VA employees are fighting for vets

CANANDAIGUA — A food service worker couldn’t take another day of serving veterans rotten bananas. A nurse couldn’t stand having to hide clean linens because too often there weren’t enough freshly laundered ones. And making vets wait to see a doctor — not OK.

Fixing problems to improve life for veterans and the people employed to serve them is the idea behind a project at the Canandaigua VA called Lean Management. Last week, the Building 5 auditorium at the VA was filled with tables sporting posterboards detailing dozens of projects sprung from VA staffers who identified troubles and came up with solutions.

For example, it’s well known that VA needs more doctors. While employees can’t snap their fingers and “poof!” — bring in more physicians — one lean team outlined the problem of wait times for VA higher-ups and pitched a plan. The team documented a system for ensuring a veteran get in to see a professional who can address their need, even if a provider they would normally see is unavailable.

Essentially, the team working on this identified the problem and set rules — built the protocol — for VA to follow and make it happen, said Sherry Sacco, assistant to the VA director for implementing Lean Management.

On the bananas, Sacco pointed to the board showing what was done after one worker, in tears, wrote on a ticket, “I can’t serve rotten bananas to my veterans anymore.” The solution involved communicating with the vendor about the ripeness of bananas at purchase, sorting for ripeness levels and creating a temperature-controlled room ideal for bananas. The solution saved money and food waste.

Before the changes, stats for the three-month period June to August 2015 show the Canandaigua VA bought 55 cases of bananas for $1,431. But 35 percent of those bananas, equivalent to some 19 cases worth about $500, had to be thrown out.

Other changes at the VA have been much simpler but with no less dramatic results. Sacco said one change involved simply turning faucets off and on as needed, to not let water run during kitchen activities. That saved more than 1 million gallons of water over 12 months.

On the linen, Sacco said the laundry had been getting backed up and nurses were hiding clean linens in a closet to make sure they’d have them when needed. The solution involved creating a better system for getting fresh linens to nurses in a timely manner, to keep up with demand.

Another efficiency move involved providing glove boxes for EMS personnel. It solved the problem of medical gloves not being readily available when personnel responded to calls outside VA buildings.

VA staffers say Lean Management is putting VA staff at the forefront of pinpointing troubles and coming up with solutions, to ultimately improve life for vets. 

Last week, as employees and vets scoped out the projects showcased in the auditorium, other staffers taking the lead in Lean Management, Misselle Jeffcote and Cheryl Graff, also talked about various aspects. A big area is in expanded telehealth services. The services use modern technology so veterans can get certain types of medical care and consultations from home or close to home. The VA is also offering more direct scheduling options. One example: Beginning last month, vets no longer have to contact their primary care provider for a referral to optometry for routine eye exams. In making optometry appointments directly, the idea is to save veterans time and improve access to primary care appointments.

For more on what’s up at Canandaigua VA, visit: http://www.canandaigua.va.gov/

 

By the numbers

55 Cases of bananas bought for a three-month period in 2015 at Canandaigua VA Medical Center

$1,431 Cost

35 Percentage of bananas tossed for going bad

19 Cases tossed

$500 Wasted