MARY ANTOINETTE (TONI) LAWRIE R.N., WVHP
BAY PINES VAMC, FLORIDA AND VISN 8 LEAD WVHP
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
HOUSE VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HEALTH
October 2, 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Toni Lawrie, a registered nurse currently working as the Women Veterans Program Manager ( WVPM) at the Bay Pines VAMC on the west-central coast of Florida, and Lead WVPM for VISN 8. I am pleased to be here today to report on the status of women veterans health care at Bay Pines in particular, and VISN 8 in general. Almost 10 years ago, in March of 1994, I provided a statement to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in regard to " VA actions to improve the provision of health care to women veterans and related issues". In reviewing that testimony I was reminded that I called for VA to open primary care clinics for women regardless of service connected status, for VA to identify several centers of excellence to show the way in women's health care, and for VA to eliminate physical and psychological barriers for women seeking health care from the VA. To my delight and surprise, VA has done just that. I can only hope I am as on target with my suggestions now as I was then. The Bay Pines Women's Program was recognized in 2002 as a VA Clinical Program of Excellence.
Florida is home to 107,000 women veterans, and Puerto Rico has 6,000; so VISN 8 has about 113,000 women veterans, according to the 2000 census figures. This is an increase of some16,000 from the 1990 census, which showed the VISN 8 women veteran total as 97,200. VISN 8 has the largest workload of women veterans in the nation. In FY 2000, three of our VA facilities were ranked in the top 10 VA medical facilities in the nation in treating unique numbers of women (Tampa # 1, NF/SG #3, and Bay Pines #9). In FY 2002, we treated in excess of 21,000 unique women across the Network (a 19 percent market share).
VISN 8 has a Women Veterans Workgroup that reports to the Director through the Clinical Council. This work group developed a Five- Year Strategic Plan to expand and improve the care of women veterans. Three of the main goals in the plan speak to both our "best practices" and our vulnerabilities. Those goals are:
Privacy deficiencies in the hospitals have been largely overcome in the past several years. However, with the rapid proliferation of Community Based Outpatient Clinics ( CBOC) in the system and the conversion of inpatient space to outpatient space, the deficiencies are back. Each WVPM in VISN 8 surveyed the CBOCs, finding a lack of privacy curtains, restrooms unequipped for women's needs, misplaced exam tables without stirrups, exam rooms on public corridors which could be easily accessed by other patients, a lack of acoustical privacy at check in, and only a few that offered gender specific examinations for women. Reclaimed space in hospital facilities generally exist on easily accessed public corridors and few rooms have enhanced privacy provided by draw curtains.
The overall VISN 8 goal was to raise market penetration of the veteran population to 25 percent; so the goal for women was raised from 20 percent to 25 percent.
And the third goal of offering "full-service" settings for women to receive care is driven by current practice in VISN 8, and by findings from satisfaction surveys of users. All of the facilities in VISN 8 have dedicated space in the hospitals where "women's services" are offered. They vary in the mix of services, some offering more than others. However, we have identified the more comprehensive mix of services as one of our Best Practices in the care of women. It is preferred not only by our patients, but also by our providers. Hallway or "curbside" consultations between a matrix of primary and specialty care providers saves time, money, and the potential for clinical error. We know our patients want this kind of service. In a recent survey of 243 outpatient women across the VISN (September 2002), we asked, "If you had the option of choosing where you receive health care within the VA system, which of the following would you choose? Primary care, not separated from male patients, Primary care, separated from male patients, or in a Women' Health clinic?". Only seven percent of respondents chose Primary care, not separated, while 86 percent chose Womens Clinics and six percent chose Primary Care, separated. A second question, "If you are seen in the Women's Clinic, does it offer you…less privacy (zero percent), same privacy (16 percent), more privacy (82 percent)."
Another important element of our program is the commitment that Bay Pines has made for a full-time program manager. As a full-time WVPM, I have been able to devote much of my time to improving and expanding the services available to women veterans at Bay Pines, and in VISN 8. At Bay Pines, we have become a Clinical Program of Excellence. We have a market penetration in our county population of about 35%. We have been able to develop tools/instruments to better help us communicate with and serve women. We have developed training programs for WVPMs and mental health clinicians who work with sexual trauma victims. We have developed a unique residential day treatment program for women who are suffering from PTSD as a result of military sexual trauma. This program was funded in FY 2000 by a grant from the "innovative initiatives" Request for Proposals of VA's Health Services Research and Development Service. The program has been highly successful in treating women for whom outpatient therapy alone was insufficient in the treatment of sexual trauma. Pre- and post-testing of 75 women clients who have been through the four-week residential program provides statistically significant evidence that the program works, and works WELL. Preliminary data analysis indicates significant improvement of symptoms including anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, sleep disturbance, and sexual functioning as a result of the treatment intervention.
The patients are also very satisfied with the care that they receive in the Sexual Trauma Day Treatment Program ( STDTP); 99 percent indicate that they would return for additional treatment if needed, and 100 percent would recommend the program to a fellow veteran who needed treatment because of sexual trauma. Research associated with this program continues and holds promise of important findings. We are currently using the STDTP as a model to develop a treatment program for male victims of military sexual trauma at Bay Pines. We are also asking for funding to train two post-doctoral year psychologists in these special programs yearly, to begin developing a pool of highly trained mental health clinicians from which VA can draw.
The VISN 8 Women Veterans Workgroup has created several work products that are helpful to the overall effort, especially in the creation of instruments that survey the satisfaction of women with their care. VISN 8 is a "benchmark" network in the care of women veterans. We have seen that systems that work well for women also improve the care of men.
I thank the Chairman and the Committee members for requesting my statement. It is heartening to those of us in the field to know that our thoughts, ideas, and opinions are valued by the men and women in Congress who make the laws.