Chillicothe VA Medical Center: Jeffrey T. Gering, Medical Center Director

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Chillicothe VA Medical Center in Chillicothe, Ohio, places a great emphasis not just on primary care and basic acute care, but also on mental-health services and geriatrics. The latter has a robust program with 162 nursing-home beds.

Even though Chillicothe VA is a federally funded institution, Jeffrey T. Gering, medical center director, said the organization measures itself according to private institutions, especially when it comes to benchmarking quality metrics and patient-satisfaction scores. In fact, most of its measures equal or surpass the private sector, and Gering said that Chillicothe VA is equal with the private sector on patient preference for a healthcare facility.

Expansion and improvement initiatives

Currently, Chillicothe is spending over $150 million on upgrading its facility. This includes infrastructure improvements and total renovation of the patient-care building. The organization is also devoting $20 million each in renovation dollars for its nursing-home units. The goal is to bring them more in line with a neighborhood community living center similar to the Planetree model. Gering said this project is about 50-percent complete.

Chillicothe is also pursuing a biomass energy plan that involves taking the main boilers and supplementing them with other boilers that will be running off wood chips. When the project is completed this June, most of the facility’s heat and some of its electricity, through co-generation, will be powered via wood chips harvested from south central Ohio.

Gering said that after talking with the American Hospital Association, he discovered that Chillicothe will only be the second facility or hospital in the country to implement this kind of a program, especially on this scale.

Being proactive with homelessness

When President Obama and the Honorable Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, adopted a goal of eliminating homelessness among the veteran populations, Chillicothe also heard the call and has been actively pursuing a program to achieve this goal.

The Housing First Initiative is a program that houses a homeless veteran first, thus providing some stabilization, then seeks to get them the medical care and social treatment they need.

Gering said one of the keys to making this program successful is doing a better job in preventing homelessness and screening for those who are at risk for homelessness, as well as doing more community partnership in housing homeless veterans. This includes transitional living with nonprofits and collaborating with the HUDfast program, a partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA.

In this program, landlords are found who are willing to house veterans in apartments in their community. Once the veterans are housed, the program provides case-management assistance to the veterans to make sure they transition effectively from an unstable living environment into a stable one.

Always looking ahead

Gering has been with the Chillicothe VA for four years. Prior to this position, he was associate director and COO of Edward Hines Jr. Va and Jesse Brown VA, both in Chicago.

He realizes the obstacles inherent in being a smaller rural facility. For example, if one specialist leaves, it is difficult to get a replacement immediately. He also cited the need for employee unity as a challenge, especially when it comes to taking Chillicothe VA outside its comfort zone and stretching it to a higher level.

“I’m always looking out on the horizon about the possibilities and stretching the organization to strive to achieve excellence in healthcare services as defined by our patients, our veterans,” he said. “That kind of dovetails into being very patient-focused and trying to design our services and operate our programs so that they truly do meet the needs of our veterans as defined by our veterans.”

Significant future investments

Meeting the needs of veterans often involves upgrading equipment and facilities. With the new radiology suite came a new MRI, two CT Scans, as well as two nuclear-medicine cameras.

Chillicothe VA has also made a significant investment in technology and a program called Vocera, which is a person-to-person rapid communication system that each staff member wears, enabling them to communicate with each other through a computerized operator that can find a person and prompt them to respond.

Gering said the center is in the process of implementing the Real Time Location System (RTLS) for tracking equipment and implementing other applications appropriate to its mission.

Additionally, there’s the electronic ICU partnership between Chillicothe and Cincinnati VA Medical Center. An intensivist in Cincinnati can log on or be logged on and remotely consult with the attending staff and the patient at Chillicothe. As Gering noted, this allows an intensivist expert to be available 24/7 at the medical center.

Gering added that the center is also a beta-test site examining physician use of iPads for remotely tapping into medical records.

Future plans are based on the federal map for transforming the VA into a 21st-century leading organization. Large initiatives include moving toward a model of patient-centered care; patient-centered medical homes; primary care using kiosks for patients to log into and/or check into the center; and more reliance on telehealth.
“The VA and Chillicothe in particular is a healthcare leader in many respects,” Gering said. “We’re always looking on the horizon of opportunities and advancing the level of quality and services for our patients and that includes taking advantage of the latest technology and applying it here. Even though we may be more rural, we still like to be considered a leader in adapting and effectively using the technology that’s available to us.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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