I am preparing to retire from federal service and from my position as the chief executive officer of the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center here in Philadelphia. I would like to take this opportunity to provide information, not only about the outstanding services provided by our health care system, but also highlighting a few of the amazing improvements we have achieved as an organization in an effort to better serve our veterans.
Upon my arrival to Philadelphia in October 2013, my overarching task was to guide an organization with tremendous strengths but also facing significant challenges. Not long after I started, VA in general was suffering from a trust deficit in the eyes of many stakeholders, due to the widely covered access issues that included manipulation of wait times at certain VA health care facilities.
During that time, the Philadelphia VA endured intense scrutiny alongside many other VA medical centers nationwide. As was later confirmed in reports by the Office of Inspector General, while Philadelphia had room to improve in fully complying with the scheduling directive, Philadelphia VA staff did not manipulate data to misrepresent wait times, and no pressure was exerted on staff to falsify numbers or documents. Unfortunately, in 2014 a congressional stakeholder directly called into question my truthfulness personally and alleged that I and other staff lied about these matters. This incorrect portrayal was particularly challenging not only for me personally, but also adversely affected the morale of our workforce. However, we persevered. During my time at the Crescenz VA Medical Center, the hardworking and dedicated staff joined VA hospitals nationwide to improve our overall performance. I cannot overstate the commitment and passion displayed by the employees of our medical center.
In addition, the University of Pennsylvania, as our academic affiliate, has been integral to our steady improvements. The Philadelphia VA’s partnership with one of the top medical schools in the country enhances the quality of health care to veterans, and also provides major benefits in the areas of research and medical education. I count a much-strengthened relationship with UPenn among the major accomplishments realized over the past five years.
As a couple of noteworthy achievements, we have effectively eliminated Hepatitis C in veterans of Philadelphia, many of whom suffered from this condition for years, by treating and curing over 1,500 veterans with groundbreaking medication. We functionally ended veteran homelessness in 2015 together with our City of Philadelphia partners. This truly was a landmark accomplishment that had seemed impossible only years before. We have markedly improved health care access to veterans, but we plan to improve access even further by establishing a new site of care in West Philadelphia to be located at 63rd and Market St., scheduled to open in 2019. Additionally, we have obtained approval to establish a new location in Northeast Philadelphia.
As I retire, I reiterate my belief that VA has the noblest calling of any government agency. I’d like to thank the staff at the Crescenz VA Medical Center, and the wonderful community organizations and partners for their tireless efforts to meet the needs of veterans whether in collaboration with VA or independently. I have no doubt that veterans of the Philadelphia area will continue to benefit from the cutting-edge clinical services, research, and teaching programs at the Medical Center. I am humbled and grateful for the honor and privilege of serving our nation’s heroes.