After years without a contract for on-Island medical care for veterans, officials are reporting that “considerable progress” has been made, news that was met with skepticism by the Island veterans agent.
The original contract between the Providence VA Medical Center and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital lapsed several years ago, and in the meantime, Island veterans have had to go off-Island for most medical care.
The fight to renew the contract has involved politicians and, at time, strong emotions. In February, there was word that a contract should be in place by the spring, though that time came and went without any news.
In an August 8 letter to the Providence VA, Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown said they had sent previous inquiries about the issue “and we were assured as early as March that the proposed contract was being finalized.”
“However, we continue to field complaints from our constituents on the Island about the lack of a contract,” the letter read.
In a letter addressed to Mr. Kerry and Mr. Brown, the director of medical services at the Providence VA Medical Center said that regional and local reviews of the contract have been completed, and the contract is awaiting final approval with the head of contracting (HCA) in Washington, D.C., with a recent protocol change requiring that the contract award be approved by that body.
“We have advised HCA of the importance of a timely review and will continue to engage them accordingly,” Providence medical center director Vincent Ng wrote. “Once we receive final approval, we will award the contract. Martha’s Vineyard Hospital will have 30 days to begin contract execution. During this timeframe, members of my staff will visit Martha’s Vineyard to help ensure a smooth transition into the new contract as well as meet with veteran stakeholders in a town hall setting.”
The letter noted that the Providence VA and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital have had to create a totally new contract, which will now include basic lab work and diagnostic imaging without the need for pre-approval. Veterans will still have to go off-Island for speciality care, Mr. Ng wrote, and dental care will not be authorized on the Island.
He said that without a contract, eligible veterans have received primary care on a fee-basis program, and information about the process for receiving this care has been sent to Dukes County and local veterans.
But Dukes County veterans agent Jo Ann Murphy said she didn’t think that was true. “I don’t know of anybody who got anything from them,” she said, noting that she was sent a fact sheet that she shared. “I don’t think that’s right.”
She added that in the last week, two veterans told her that they got a letter saying they would have to go to the Brockton VA for blood work, instead of getting it done on-Island.
One of the veterans was a 94-year-old man, she said. The veterans would have to go to Brockton every month to get routine tests done, she said.
Ms. Murphy advised the veterans to call the VA and ask for approval to pay for non-VA services.
Ms. Murphy was skeptical about the progress on a contract. “They’ve been saying that for months, so I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said. “It’s the same response, but it’s more eloquent this time . . . we’re closing in on September.”
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Tim Walsh said the hospital has sent in its part of the contract, and he hasn’t heard anything new. He said the hospital will be ready to execute the contract when it’s approved. “We’ll be ready to go,” he said.