Local veterans see hope for medical services close to their homes

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Veterans liaison Bob Frolow and Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s spokesman Mike Francis listen as Shore Medical Center CEO Ron Johnson explains new health care initiatives for veterans. Veterans liaison Bob Frolow and Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s spokesman Mike Francis listen as Shore Medical Center CEO Ron Johnson explains new health care initiatives for veterans.  NORTHFIELD — Free health care screenings for veterans are being provided daily through Saturday, Aug. 23 at the three Shore Urgent Care Centers.

Local veterans met Tuesday, Aug. 19 at Shore Physicians Group Urgent Care Center on Shore Road to hear about inroads being made to provide those veterans with healthcare closer to home.

As the system stands now veterans, many of them aging, are forced to travel to Wilmington, Delaware for care and it is a hardship but changes are coming.

 Ron Johnson, CEO of Shore Medical Group along with Atlantic County Veterans Liaison Bob Frolow spoke Tuesday of the PC3 or Patient Centered Community Care program that is being put into place that lays the groundwork for veterans being able to access an extensive number of healthcare services closer to home.  

 Services provided veterans under the PC3 program include radiology, pathology, surgery, oncology, gastroenterology, cardiology, rehab, skilled home health care, inpatient rehab, outpatient behavioral health, inpatient behavioral health, labor and delivery, emergency services and blind and low vision rehab.

Frolow said access to healthcare has always been the issue for veterans. What advocates are fighting for now is to get veterans’ personal physicians approved by the Veterans Administration. That would allow them to provide services close to home.

Stories of veterans’ long waits for healthcare from the VA have grabbed headlines for months. They forced Washington to take a look at what it could do to help give veterans the healthcare they were promised when they were in the service. That serious lack of service and long waits resulted in President Barack Obama signing into law the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 to mandate the Department of Veterans Affairs offer more timely and convenient health care to veterans. The act dedicated $16.5 billion to hire physicians, build clinics and cover veterans health care costs outside of the VA.

 Explaining the PC3 program; “It’s a program that can allow veterans to get care locally instead of having to get on a bus and going to Wilmington for their care,” Johnson said. PC3 networks were started to deliver primary care to veterans when and where the VA cannot, by taking over the responsibility of fee-basis, non-VA health care at the VA’s expense.

 But while it seems like it would just make more sense in terms of convenience and cost effectiveness to treat veterans closer to home, there are some roadblocks that have yet to be maneuvered.

 Frolow said there is no process in place for getting personal primary care physicians approved. “This has been a long and frustrating time getting to this point but we are getting there,” he said.Frolow said veterans’ best first step is to connect with their VA primary care physicians. “Nothing can begin without contacting your VA primary care doctor,” Frolow said.

 While some in the audience complained of mistakes made by the VA, veterans advocate Marco Polo Smigliani of Egg Harbor Township said, “We have worked very hard to get to this point; it has taken 13 years to get here. What we need now is everyone’s help to support this program and make sure our veterans are able to see their doctors and get the care they need close to home. 

It’s been a long road, a frustrating, long road, but I think we’re almost there,” Frolow said. “Three years ago, the VA didn’t want to talk about non-VA health care at all. Now we’re here, and it’s up to us to open up channels. We have the backing of Shore Medical Center,” which is contracted with PC3.

Two older veterans sat quietly and listened to what all the speakers had to say. Charlie Reilly of Egg Harbor Township, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy, said he came to hear what the new program has to offer. He has experienced the long trips to Wilmington on a bus for surgical procedures. Reilly brought to light another hardship, not always seen.  

“My wife is 93 years old. I can not leave her at home by herself for the entire day that it takes to go to Wilmington,” Reilly said. “It forces guys to pay out of their pocket to go to their own doctor. I came to hear how this plan is going to improve that.”  

Michael Francis of U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo’s office was there and pledged support in moving the process forward that would bring the patient centered community care to local veterans.  

At the conclusion of the program veterans were able to have free health screenings done at the Northfield ShoreUrgent Care Center. They may do so through the rest of the week. Veterans may also receive free screenings at Mays Landing and Atlantic City Urgent Care centers.

Veterans Charlie Reilly of EggHarborTownship and Bob Wolfard of OceanCity hear what the government has to offer them. Veterans Charlie Reilly of EggHarborTownship and Bob Wolfard of OceanCity hear what the government has to offer them.

 


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