West Texas VA reports big improvement, even with 1-star rating

BIG SPRING -- The West Texas VA Health Care System in Big Spring recently received a one-star rating out of five in a VA assessment, but overall improvements in specific areas have VA staff excited and are setting records.

The VA’s Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning assessment (SAIL), was released on Oct. 3rd, and marks the third consecutive year that it remains at a one-star rating.

Since 2017, the facility has made changes, and administrators and veterans have seen impact.

Dozens of West Texas veterans gathered at a townhall hosted by the West Texas VA to discuss issues and learn about programs.

One veteran at Thursday night’s townhall, Kerry Cale, said he’s experienced changes.

“But they’re keeping the people energized. And the people are, pardon the term, are excited about what they’re doing. Because they’re making such big changes in the VA, which benefits the veterans and I’m really happy to see that,” he said.

Cale served in the Navy, and said he’s received great care. One change he has experienced, is working with one doctor for all of his visits, instead of multiple ones.

But the changes the local VA is seeing in SAIL are in ambulatory care, according to VA doctor and Acting Chief of Staff, Dr. Larry Thompson.

“Those conditions for example, would be diabetes, CLPT, hypertension, any one of those conditions left untreated or not treated well can land you in the hospital,” he said.

The doctor said the rating system isn’t indicative of the quality of care, but predominantly highlighted the veterans’ awareness of available information.

“We have been more aggressive with our treatments. And in the coordination of the follow-up that we monitor you with through some of the technology that the VA can leverage, which are telehealth monitoring equipment at home, the nurse system that will track a patient to see how they’re doing on a daily basis. And so we identify in our systems which of our patients are highest risk, and then check on them, some even daily,” Dr. Thompson said.

And throughout the year, West Texas VA administrators said they have noticed a difference.

“We’ve gone from roughly 108 in the country, to 35th. And we did that with a bunch of different efforts. Basically, a lot of it had to do with just improving the overall coordination of care with the veteran. So right now we’re performing right at the top of the country, and are the most-improved,” he said.

Those at the VA said the number jump is just the beginning. They will continue to work toward a five-star rating.

Dr. Thompson said the care system focuses on many things at once, but will pay special attention to mental health next.

The West Texas VA will also continue to hold townhalls to hear veterans’ concerns and work toward solutions.

West Texas VA Public Affairs Officer, Sheila Austin, noted several ways the VA has taken veterans’ feedback and improved their programs and systems.

The Army veteran said those who sacrificed for our country deserve the best care possible.

“Our priority here is to provide the best quality care for our veterans that we can,” Austin said.

The 146 VA medical centers’ SAIL ratings are based on dozens of different factors, including wait time, and death and infection rates.

The West Texas VA, along with four others, remain at the bottom of the rankings for the third consecutive year.