Making Appointments At The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


Dearest Readers:

If you are a veteran, or if you’ve ever heard a veteran complain about VA Benefits…the process…the scheduling…the nightmares of GETTING BENEFITS, read on. You will understand and maybe be able to relate to the issues at any VA hospital. The process, to be totally honest, is like a process to get Congress to make a decision…and we all know how slow Congress is, don’t we! They move at a snail’s pace!

To those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you might remember an informative blog I wrote years ago, resulting in quite a few ‘changes’ at ER at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Let’s just say, on that occasion, I was about ready to ‘kill with kindness in ER.’ One of the nurses and I had a few words, resulting in her saying, and I quote: “He can always go somewhere else…” Thank goodness I had enough diplomacy to write in my blog, instead of having a ‘cat fight.’

Today, I’ve spent over 45 minutes attempting to get answers to “simple” questions at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. To the lady assisting me on the telephone, having to place me on hold numerous times, I thank you for your excellent customer service skills. You appeared to listen to me and to understand. Also, when I stated just how does a Veteran not give up when the ‘process to get an appointment is so complicated,’ you listened without becoming defensive. Each time you placed me on hold, you apologized and you followed up with me. Thank you. Unfortunately, I totally forgot to get your name; nevertheless, your customer service skills on the telephone was much appreciated. How I pray someone can locate you and tell you your customer service was 1,000% on target!

Allow me a few minutes to explain:

Tuesday of this week, December 27, 2016, to be exact, was a day spent at MUSC Orthopedics in Mt. Pleasant. My husband broke his left ankle in June. For almost three months, he wore a boot, issued from the VA Hospital. He’s had numerous appointments with the orthopedic surgeon (sorry, I’m at a loss for his name) and the decision was made that he needs surgery on his left ankle. Realizing he needed a specialist, his orthopedic surgeon at the VA Hospital suggested an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon at MUSC, Mt. Pleasant. That was in September. His appointment took three months to schedule? Tuesday, a thorough examination was performed. X-rays done, and now he needs a CT scan at the VA Hospital.

“Oh no…” I thought, and then I verbalized to the staff, “You do realize it takes an act of Congress almost to get an appointment at the VA Hospital.” When the decision was made for Phil to see an orthopedic doctor in Mt. Pleasant, somehow the wires got crossed and it took THREE MONTHS to get to see the doctor in Mt. Pleasant.

Readers, are you still with me? This gets more interesting!

Understanding how complicated it is to get information and scheduling at the VA Hospital, Charleston, SC [Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center], I suggested to my husband that maybe I should phone them to get the scheduling process active. My husband has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. He doesn’t take the ‘run-around process’ well at all, and when he doesn’t get his way — well, let’s just say — he isn’t diplomatic. No. Not at all!

Anticipating another run-around process, or the expectation of – “You need to have your husband schedule this,” — today, I actually got an understanding person on the phone. I’m describing her as a customer service rep, although, I’m certain her title is not correct. Her customer service skills = A+!

After holding on the line while she checked, and after she confirmed the information of the correct ####; address, phone, etc. she was most kind and helpful to me. Thank you! When she spoke to me again, I was told:

“Your husband has to get an order from his primary care doctor for this CT scan. Then, the order needs to go to his orthopedic doctor so he can place the order. Are you still with me, readers? It gets complicated. The VA Hospital has to write an order for the CT scan to be scheduled, even though I have an order from MUSC, signed by the orthopedic surgeon???”

“But….But…as I’ve stated, we have an order from MUSC Orthopedics to schedule the CT scan…”

“Yes, Ma’am…that is the process for the VA.”

“It is no wonder Veterans get so perplexed with the VA,” I said. “It’s always either a hurry up and wait….or…. Whatever!”

By now, this customer service professional was beginning to understand how frustrated I was becoming. I was placed on HOLD once again.

In a matter of minutes, a male voice picked up, confirming who I was. I do believe it was the orthopedic surgeon at the VA Hospital. His voice was familiar. Believe me, many of those professionals have met me. I suppose they know I have been described as “Intense…BoldRefusing to take no for an answer.”

Yes. That is who I am. There are two B’s in my name!

Placed on Hold once again, I decided I needed to meditate. Inhale for four seconds. Hold breath for seven seconds, then — breathe out ever so slowly. I did not want to get frustrated, or to come across as rude. I simply wanted to get the CT scan scheduled for my husband. His left ankle hurts!

About ten minutes later, my phone beeped. I was horrified I would lose connection with Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, so I chose not to answer via call waiting.

Minutes later, my husband phoned. I answered, while praying the other line did not disconnect. Getting back in contact with the same party at the VA Hospital is another nightmare!

Speaking with my husband, he thanked me for phoning them.

“Make this quick,” I said. “I’m on hold with them.”

“And that’s why I called you,” he replied. “The CT scan is scheduled for later this afternoon. She was afraid you might’ve been disconnected, so she phoned me.”

“No run around?” I asked.

“Nope. Whatever you said got them to work through the channels to get the appointment scheduled.”

Sometimes it pays to have two B’s in my name!

Diplomacy pays when dealing with government officials. To the lady who worked through the process to get the order…and the scheduling done, I cannot thank you enough. Normally, the process is not this simple. I was expecting a three month waiting ordeal! I suppose I was ready for the ‘intense’ demeanor I have to kick in! I am known for not taking ‘NO’ for an answer!

Sometimes conducting yourself in a calm, but persuasive voice works. Today is a new day!

Thank you, Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

 

HURRY UP AND WAIT… PLAYING THE WAITING GAME AT THE VA HOSPITAL


Dearest Readers:

Listed below is a story based on true experiences shared at the VA Hospital in Charleston, SC – March 2011. I am happy to report, these scenarios have not been experienced by my husband since that time. Now, with so many investigations ongoing regarding the Veterans Administration, I thought it appropriate to share this story again. Thankfully, after this happened, I received numerous phone calls from Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital, apologizing. Apparently, our experience helped to open the eyes of the administration and this type of behavior is no longer tolerated. The last time I accommodated my husband at the hospital, I discovered friendly, professional and caring nurses, doctors and staff. Truly a pleasant experience. Isn’t it sad that sometimes we do tolerate this type of behavior — however, for me, when I see this behavior related to a Veteran, I choose to slip on my Julia Sugarbaker shoes and go at them — diplomatically. Let’s just say, sometimes, the power of words and body language gets the job done. I am so happy that Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital no longer tolerates non-professional employees. Our Veterans deserve the best…after all…they went to battle for the United States of America. Thank you Veterans…for your service…and welcome Home!

On March 30, 2011, my husband awoke to severe pain in the neck. Knowing he is a heart patient who suffered a TIA in December 2008, Phil phoned his primary care doctor at Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital. For those who are not aware, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mini-stroke. A TIA is considered a warning sign that a true stroke may be about to happen. Time is crucial to receive medical care. Phil phoned the TAPS line to make an appointment to see his primary care doctor. When the nurse at the VA hospital returned his call, he listened to the symptoms, telling my husband he would receive a return call from the doctor within twenty-four hours. “Twenty-four hours,” I replied. “If you are having a TIA there may not be 24 hours We’re going to E-R!”

Arriving at E-R of the VA Hospital, I noticed a sign, “No cell phones permitted in this area.” I turned my cell phone off. We entered the emergency area, standing in line awaiting a simple nod from someone acknowledging our presence. We watched the employee answer the telephone, hang it up, answer another telephone, while placing it on the desk to answer her personal cell phone. Upon answering her personal cell, she motioned that she wasn’t assisting with patients and walked away. We crossed over to the other line, now filled with two people who arrived after we did. Finally we were serviced and my husband told them he was a heart patient and had a TIA in 2008. His neck was causing excruciating pain and he wanted to make certain he wasn’t having a stroke. Almost immediately, my husband’s vitals were checked. Within 30 minutes he was moved back to the E-R area, examination room 10.

For two-and-a- half hours we sat in the room. No one came to check on his condition. In the corridor my husband listened to the nurses and assistants chattering away about their lives, partying, marriage, while answering their cell phones and surfing on the Internet. My husband is a Vietnam Veteran with PTSD so patience isn’t something he tolerates well. After waiting for such a long time, I approached these people, greeting them diplomatically. “Could you please give me an estimate of how much longer it will be before my husband sees a doctor?”

Hannah, the young, attractive blonde dressed in orange scrubs glanced up from her laptop screen. “We have a lot of patients. Many are sicker than your husband, so we don’t know how long it will be.”

“You do realize my husband could be having another TIA. I am certain when the doctor arrives he will recommend an X-ray, and then we’ll have to continue the wait. Strokes demand a quick response.”

The nurse shrugged her shoulders. “We looked at his records, but I don’t know how much longer it will be.”

“Why is it always such a long waiting game every time we come here?” I asked. “My husband could be having a stroke.”

Recognizing I was getting nowhere, I turned back to my husband’s examination room. The nurse replied, “You can always go somewhere else…”

I spun on my heel, approached the blonde again and replied… “That is the wrong thing to say to someone, especially a Veteran. When the USA needed them, they did not say they could go somewhere else to avoid war…How dare you say that to a veteran. Perhaps you should go somewhere else to work…”

Arriving back at my husband’s room, I was so angry I was shaking. Within two minutes a doctor entered the room, introducing himself as Dr. Edward O’Bryan.” He examined my husband, testing his balance, doing all the necessary tests to determine he was not having a stroke. The diagnosis was neck strain. A shot was given, prescriptions written and a request for an X-ray was completed. While speaking with the doctor, I demanded to know the blonde nurse’s name. “Hannah,” was the reply. Dr. O’Bryan was 100% professional with a great bedside manner. I explained my concerns to him, along with the words expressed by the nurse. He apologized. I let him know I was taking notes, would write a letter to my Congressional Representative, and would write additional stories about this experience. He nodded. Later, I spoke with a nursing supervisor who reassured me that the nurse in question had been reprimanded.

Isn’t it a shame that sometimes it takes a bit of assertiveness to get the necessary care at a VA Hospital. When our veterans went to war the expression, “Hurry up and wait,” became a cliché. In 2011, it is not just a cliché, but appears to be a standard operating procedure at VA Hospitals. It is a pity that veterans are treated in such a way. Whatever happened to the promises made? Our veterans fight wars to protect our freedom. I find it inconceivable that when they need a little TLC and examinations they are told to “Go somewhere else.” Our Veterans deserve better treatment and medical care. They made our country proud, not a disgrace!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Barbie Perkins-Cooper is a freelance writer who loves the journey and exploration of hospitality, travel, and health. She works full-time as an editorial photojournalist and has published numerous articles and photographs for regional, health and beauty and travel publications, including the Travel Channel, Buick B Magazine, and many more. Barbie resides in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, Phil and several precious pups. She is the author of Condition of Limbo and Career Diary of a Photographer. e-mail barbiepc@bellsouth.net.