CONWAY — Veterans will have better access to care in their community and the ability to interact with specialists on their smartphones thanks to new programs offered by Veterans Affairs, Manchester VA leadership told about 20 people who attended a meeting at the Conway Public Library on Feb. 12.
The purpose of the event, dubbed a “Veteran Town Hall” was to have an open forum for veterans to engage with VA officials about health care and benefits.
Among the speakers were interim VA Manchester Medical Center Director Kevin Forrest; Nancy Falleur, RN, chief of Connected Care at Manchester VA Medical Center; and Kristin Pressly of the Manchester VA’s public affairs.
Pressly told the Sun: “We’re excited to be sharing important connected care. ... It’s utilizing technology.”
New programs are being marketed at events like the one at the library on the VA website; at the local clinics like the Conway Community Based Outpatient Clinic located at 71 Hobbs St.
Forrest said Maine Medical Center and Memorial Hospital are now part of the Community Care network, through the VA’s contractor, Optum.
“So if a veteran needs help that we can’t provide in the VA system, we authorize that care to be done out in the network, of which Memorial Hospital would be one in this area,” said Forrest.
Pressly added that to be covered, the veteran must be eligible and enrolled and the providers have to be in network. The Community Care Network was created through the Mission Act, which was enacted on June 6 of last year.
As interim director, Forrest oversees all the Manchester Area VA facilities, which includes Conway, Portsmouth, Somersworth and Tilton.
“The important thing up here, in any of the outlying clinics, is us promoting this VA-connected care or telehealth,” said Forrest. “Whether it be a smartphone, whether it be a terminal, possibly in the clinic, being able to speak to a specialist, when it’s appropriate, (they can) get that care right here in the community via a huge network of specialists.”
Put simply, using an app, a veteran could take a picture of a rash or another ailment with his or her smartphone and send it to a specialist in the VA network, said Forrest, adding that the app would also allow veterans to take part in counseling appointments over the phone.
Telehealth appointments at the clinic are done in exam rooms that provide the veteran privacy when discussing their conditions with doctors who may be in Manchester, or Boston, Mass.
Falleur provided attendees with a demonstration on how the VA app would allow veterans to remotely chat with VA doctors.
She was assisted by Corey Beem, executive assistant to the director of Manchester VA Medical Center, who sat in another room and played the part of the doctor in the scenario.
Comments from the dozen or so veterans in attendance were mostly positive.
“I get care here in Conway and in Manchester, and I also had major surgery at White River Junction,” said David Schurman of Conway. “I have gotten excellent, excellent care at the VA. I really appreciate it.”
Michael T. Gilmore of North Conway said he has been pleased with the care he’s received at the Conway clinic and in Manchester. However, he complained that he’s been waiting since November for Portsmouth Hospital to enter into Optum’s network.
“I’m waiting to get my hip done,” said Gilmore.
He was told by the VA staff at the meeting that Portsmouth Regional Hospital had joined the network just recently.
Gilmore also complained about the user interface on the My Healthy Vet website and its secure messaging service.
“On a scale of one to 10 I would rank it about a -2,” said Gilmore of the interface. “It’s clunky getting to what you want in there.”
Gilmore rated the messenger at “-10.” He said it was hard to carbon copy himself on messages he sends to his doctor and then put them into a folder.
Krystal Letourneau of Twin Mountain said: “As a veteran who lives in northern New Hampshire, I kind of fall between the lines of Manchester and White River Junction (Vt.). and I just want to say when it comes to veteran care, Manchester and White River Junction are both amazing at collaborating ... to make sure you are getting the treatment you need.”
David Haskell of Tamworth said he was having trouble getting his private primary care doctor access to his VA records despite his having signed a release.
The VA staffers said they would look into it.