Now I’m not the first to pen open criticism of our nation’s Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers, whether its Walter Reed or Portland VA Medical Center. Today, for the first time I went in to get seen at the emergency room on a lower back pain that came back this week with a vengeance–my hope was to receive an steroid injection (SI) as the military doctors had done previously at Bethesda/Walter Reed–but after being seen I was prescribed meds, and a follow up in two weeks. Up to this point I was pleased and impressed with the genuine patient care and compassion exhibited from the front desk, volunteers, nurses to the doctors. My next stop. Pharmacy. I was advised on the meds I would be taking, to walk 50 meters and get taken care of all under one roof and on the same day. Perfect.
The current Pharmacy requires Veterans’ to take a number similar to your local DMV for license/permit, no exception. After waiting patiently for 40+ minutes in the lobby, 71 came up on the screen, my number. I got in the chaotic line happy as can be to pick up my meds and Veterans’ both young and old, however, were furious and vocal about the Pharmacy setup and were leaving if not barging out of there, some without their meds. When I arrived at the window to provide my ticket and paperwork low and behold I was told by the pharmacist, “wrong window I can’t talk to you, you need to go to the other window.” I barely understood through the thick glass windows. Stunned, I went to the adjacent window and asked the agent about my meds and was told, “take a number, it will be about 40-45 minutes” even though 71 had just been called, but there was no arguing with this agent. Now I could’ve easily disappeared into the hallway, parking lot and forget about the situation and visit my local Walgreens, instead I refused to let Pharmacy continue to push Veterans’ out without their meds. I went back to speak with the emergency room front desk and explained the disastrous situation occurring and pressed to make leadership aware. Jeannet was as displeased as I was, made a phone call to Pharmacy and walked with me to help me get my meds. After a few minutes talking to the agent behind the thick glass window she politely said a few minutes for your meds, and apologized for the inconvenience and urged me to not quit on the VA.
While standing in line I made small chat with a very nice lady who had worked at this Portland VA center for over two decades. She was very knowledgeable, and had great insight about the operation.Curious, I asked why she had left and said “bureaucracy and red tape that would make you sick and your head spin.” Apparently too the Pharmacy Operation had changed considerably over the years adding great confusion for first time and continuing Veterans’ visits, I was being told. She explained that the small 20-inch black monitor in the seating section with the yellow names scrolling vertically indicated individuals meds ready for pick-up. This was news to me as well as others. My last name appeared after 20-minutes and I proceeded to get in line while continuing to witness not just confusion but anger at the Pharmacy Operation, both at the agents and the procedure, coming from Veterans’ walking and those in wheelchairs, and I continued to be stunned of the lack of compassion given equal to the compassion American service members provided to the nation in her time of need.
The Portland VA Medical Center doesn’t need more security guards called to help contain a situation on the contrary it needs continuing education (e.g. customer service) for the Pharmacy staff; not agents who let procedural problems fester in their own area of operation, but are held accountable and empowered to improve care for Veterans’.
All of us in line aren’t your average joes–we are World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf I, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and every conflict in between–we are Veterans’ who have traveled from as far as Roseburg and rural Oregon to native Portlander’s.
We’re in 2010 and the VA continues to use 1990 machines and methods. Replace the tiny monitor. Use text. Email. Tweet. But expedite the process. Put a bigger screen with bold instructions. Put some courtesy back into this bottleneck.
We just want our meds to relieve the pain and go back home. We wish not to develop an ulcer while waiting for meds. Portland VA Medical Center. Please. Its 2010.
David Molina is an Army Veteran that served from 2000 to 2008, and in support of Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom from March 2007 to June 2008 as a Summary Court Martial Officer/S-3 Officer-in-Charge at the Joint Personal Effects Depot at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.