June 22, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

New Day at the VA

When one thinks about the 388-acre West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus where Wilshire meets the 405, it’s natural to think about all the land use issues that have dominated the conversation in recent years: Is the property being leased out for non-veteran purposes? Might some big development go in? Will there ever be a master plan?

Those days now seem to be fading into the rear-view mirror as Donna M. Beiter takes over as new director of the West Los Angeles VA. Beiter, who worked her way up the ranks as a nurse, said it’s now all about providing the best medical care possible.

“People don’t realize how cutting edge we are,†said Beiter. “As the country debates national healthcare issues, the VA can help lead the way.â€

The VA has been in the lead for many years when it comes to digitized record-keeping, telemedicine (monitoring patients via online video) and patient satisfaction, according to Beiter. “In a manner of speaking, we already have national healthcare.â€

Healthcare in the future will be more reliant on technology and the country simply must come to grips with the health insurance mess, said Beiter. Many of the advances being deployed throughout the VA system are finding their way into mainstream medicine, she added.  

“Healthcare in 10 years will look very different than it does today,†Beiter observed. “It has to in order to survive.â€

One technological advance promoted by the VA is the “Electronic Health Buddy.†Using the Internet and a modem-like monitoring device placed within a patient’s home, one nurse can track the progress of 50 patients at a time. This is especially efficient when patients live far away from the closest VA facility.  

As a result of the Electronic Health Buddy, hospital visits have been cut 50% and patient satisfaction has jumped 200%, according to Beiter.
The military culture often pushes young soldiers to “man up†and not complain about depression or anxiety; suicide rates of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are viewed as higher than normal.  

Two-way video technology now enables mental health counselors to conduct “live†therapy sessions with returning soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological issues. By promoting more outreach and increased dialogue – often from afar – the VA’s professional counselors are attempting to stay ahead of the curve. “You can’t have experts everywhere,†stated Beiter.

Some decidedly low-tech approaches are being employed as well. Tai chi classes help mental health patients relax; the ready availability of chocolate chip cookies boosts morale; better lighting and artwork make a hospital room feel more home-like; and letting visitors come at practically any time of day or night makes the hospital much less institutional, noted Beiter, who said she calls the new approach “patient-centered care.â€

The recently opened Fisher House is another big boost for the campus, observed Beiter. Families visiting patients often had no affordable place to stay in the area, now they do. The idea behind a Fisher house is to make it easy for families of wounded veterans to stay nearby, improving recovery times for patients.  The Fisher House has been running at 100% occupancy since it opened.

Beiter, who has been at the West LA campus for 14 years, says she thinks her promotion last October to head up the local VA has enabled her to get up to speed quickly – and with the genuine support of the staff.

As a result of an earmark submitted by Senator Dianne Feinstein to a 2008 appropriations act, the VA property is no longer a potential site for commercial development. For several years, VA directors were shifted in and out with some regularity, which didn’t allow for continuity. And previous administrations got caught up in battles with community activists over land-use issues.

The VA is currently working on an updated master plan, according to Ralph Tillman, who has been in charge of facilities (and now communications) for many years. More dialogue on this subject will be conducted in public settings later in the year, he said.

Because development is no longer on the table, Beiter is free to focus on quality healthcare – and this is exactly how she wants it.

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