Health Care

Dole VA Medical Center to build new emergency room

Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center. (Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.)
Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center. (Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.) File photo

The Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center is building a new emergency room, two additional operating suites and an expanded sterile processing area.

John Orrell, public affairs officer for the medical center, announced the plans Monday and said the VA estimates the emergency room will cost between $4 million and $5 million. He said construction is projected to begin next year with completion in mid-2017.

Orrell said he did not know where the new emergency room would be on the VA campus, 5500 E. Kellogg, and said the VA did not yet have a plan for the current emergency room space when the new facility opens.

He could not provide dollar or time estimates for the two operating rooms and sterile processing site.

The emergency room is in addition to the $7.5 million the VA is spending on a new 23,000-square-foot primary care facility, which is set to open in May.

VA officials announced plans for the emergency room Monday as part of a national initiative to increase VA transparency.

Francisco Vazquez, director of the medical center, touted the center’s accomplishments over the past year, saying that wait times had been reduced.

Here’s how the Wichita VA’s wait times compare to the national average as of June 30:

▪  Primary care — national: 4.19 days, Wichita: 2.15 days

▪  Specialty care — national: 5.14 days, Wichita: 5.81 days

▪  Mental health — national: 2.85 days, Wichita: 3.57 days

“They are good figures, and very close to the national average, but we always want to do better for our veterans and are continuously seeking ways to reduce wait times,” Francisco said.

On Oct. 1, 2013, there were 1,032 patients on the local VA electronic waiting list. Vazquez said that dropped to 97 patients now.

Other accomplishments, Francisco said, include:

▪  Increasing hospital outpatient visits by 10,500 during fiscal year 2014

▪  Lowering average phone call wait times from 294 seconds a year ago to 39 seconds now

▪  Lowering call abandonment rate from just under 25 percent to 3.47 percent

Karen Townsend, the Wichita regional office director for the Veterans Benefits Administration, said Wichita greatly lowered the number of veterans on its backlog — a list of disability claims or personal claims pending over 125 days.

Townsend said the Wichita office reduced the backlog from its peak of 3,559 claims in July 2013 to 640 as of Aug. 1.

The average pending time for a claim in Wichita is 95.3 days, below the national goal of 125 days, she said.

“We don't want any claim to be over 125 days,” Townsend said, adding, “sitting for periods of time is no longer acceptable.”

Reach Gabriella Dunn at 316-268-6400 or Follow her on Twitter: @gabriella_dunn.