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Thursday 24 August 2017
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Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center

The Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Erie VAMC), which is accredited by The Joint Commission and is located on a 20-acre site in Erie, Pennsylvania, is a general medical and surgical facility that provides a full range of primary care services for veterans in an eight-county area within northwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and southwestern New York. Here, Erie VAMC’s new Executive Director John Gennaro discusses the Erie-based operation and the numerous resources available to veterans and their caregivers.

The Erie VA Medical Center is one of our region’s larger and more visible employers. Please provide an overview of this extensive operation, from how many veterans you serve and number of employees to the operating budget and facilities that you manage.
Erie VAMC proudly serves more than 21,000 veterans throughout the tri-state area in northwestern Pennsylvania, northeastern Ohio and western New York with a total operating budget of more than $140 million. Erie VAMC employs 770-plus dedicated employees along with a robust volunteer program with 605 volunteers. In addition to the main medical center located in Erie, Erie VAMC also operates five community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) — located in Ashtabula, Crawford, McKean, Venango and Warren counties — aimed at making health care more accessible to veterans in rural communities.

What are some of the most in-demand services that you provide to area veterans?
The two highest volume services provided at the Erie VAMC include primary care and behavioral health care. Last year, Erie VAMC had 262,272 primary care outpatient visits and 51,524 Behavioral Health Clinic visits. Erie VA’s Behavioral Health Clinic is ranked No. 1 in the country for their commitment to providing exceptional same-day services to veterans needing emotional support. In addition to primary care and behavioral health-care services, our Connected Health (telehealth) program continues to expand rapidly with one out of every two veterans using some form of Connected Care services.

In addition to the benefits and services for veterans, the Erie VAMC also has a number of services designed specifically to support family caregivers. Please explain.
Erie VAMC recognizes that family caregivers in a home environment can enhance the health and well-being of veterans under VA care, which is why we offer a Caregiver Support Program. To accommodate for our caregiver’s demanding schedules, we provide both face-to-face and virtual support. The licensed professionals who man the Caregiver’s Support Line (1-855-260-3274) are there to help caregivers access services, connect to the local Caregiver Support Coordinator, answer questions, and, most importantly, to provide a listening ear and support when it’s needed most. Our local Caregiver Support Coordinator also provides a variety of social work support to family caregivers and serves as a navigator to ensure they receive the proper support and benefits. To connect with our local Caregiver Support Coordinator, please call 814/860-2657.

The Erie VAMC has undergone a number of construction and renovation projects in the past few years. What’s new and what’s next for the Erie facility?
The Erie VA Medical Center is building for the future to ensure the veterans we serve have the most state-of-the-art and progressive care facilities available to them. Erie VAMC has been selected as the VISN flagship site and is one of 18 facilities in the nation that will be implementing a wellness program as part of the CARA legislation. A strategic goal of the initiative is to reduce opioid use for chronic pain amongst Veterans. The wellness program will include complimentary alternative medicines such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, health coaches and community partnerships.

Construction is already under way on the first of two standalone phases on the Community Living Center. This $7.8 million 24,000-square-foot project will enhance the environment veterans live in our nursing home and will include all single occupancy rooms, bathrooms, courtyards, kitchenettes for family cooking and recreational spaces. An additional program enhancement for veterans will be an eight-bed Domiciliary for Substance Abuse Disorder. This comprehensive evidenced-based program will be available for veterans who are dealing with substance abuse and homelessness. A number of infrastructure projects are also under way to enhance both the energy efficiency and emergency preparedness of the medical center.

How can local employers support the Erie VA Medical Center?
There are a number of ways local employers can support the Erie VA Medical Center. First and foremost is to get the word out about VA services available to local veterans. In addition, any employer wishing to donate to the VA or volunteer, can contact our Voluntary Service Director Karen O’Neal at 814/860-2454.