Head of Hampton VA Medical Center to leave in January

WAVY-TV 10 Photo

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — The outgoing director of the Hampton VA Medical Center has seen wait times and inpatient care improve dramatically during his tenure, but says the hospital needs to get better when it comes to outpatient services.

Michael Dunfee has managed one of the oldest veterans’ hospitals in the nation for the past four years. His last day at Hampton will be January 6, when he will become a private healthcare consultant, remaining in Hampton Roads.

“The timing was right, both for me and the medical center,” Dunfee said during an extended interview Tuesday in his office.

Dunfee transferred to Hampton from a deputy director position at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Shortly afterward, he says he realized Hampton’s caseload was rapidly growing. Wait times for primary care were at or near the longest throughout the entire VA system.

Senator Mark Warner visited Hampton and called in a special team of experts to address 11 different areas of operations. Despite being on the hot seat over the wait times in early 2015, Dunfee coolly predicted improvement.

“There’s no question that they’re going to come down. We have all the right resources in place,” Dunfee said at the time.

The wait times steadily went down until they met national averages.

Dunfee sees better wait times as an accomplishment for the entire staff, and he’s proud of feedback from vets on inpatient care. He says outpatient services need attention, according to recent patient surveys and the VA’s Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) rating system.

“We don’t score well,” Dunfee said. “The feedback is not good for us.”

With an aggressive expansion and hiring campaign, Dunfee says Hampton is poised to improve the outpatient experience.

Projects are underway to meet unprecedented growth. Operating rooms, mental health, specialty care and even parking have all been upgraded and expanded, and now Hampton has more providers.

“We have many more staff than we’ve had in the past. Just this year, we’ve gone from 36 to 42 primary care providers.”

Dunfee points to additional clinical space added and planned in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.

The most important project, however, remains on the board — a full-service outpatient clinic for the Southside.

“Over 60 percent of our veterans that we take care of in Hampton Roads are living on the Southside.”

A bipartisan group of 18 senators — including Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Richard Burr — sent a letter to congressional leaders last week, urging them to approve funding for the Southside clinic by January 3, the end of the 114th Congress. The project is slated for completion in 2020.

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Burr call for Southside Clinic funding

10 On Your Side has reported on other issues the next director will inherit: Outside providers getting slow payment, availability of pain medicines, veterans waiting months to get custom wheelchairs.

Here’s Hampton’s growth in perspective: Over the past five years, VA medical centers nationwide grew at an average of about nine percent. Hampton has grown three times faster than that, at 28 percent. Dunfee says his successor cannot overlook those numbers.

“Whoever comes in next is going to come to quickly understand the growth of the veteran population, and the impact that that has to the medical center.”