Montana VA director spotlights recruitment in Helena address

Judy Hayman

(KPAX) The director of Montana’s VA Health Care System this week said she believes the agency is headed in a positive direction.

“I think things are going well,” said Judy Hayman. “We’ve made a lot of improvements in the six months that I’ve been here.”

Hayman, who took over as director in June, delivered the annual “State of the Montana VA” presentation on Wednesday evening at Helena College.

Leaders say the Montana VA currently provides care for more than 47,000 enrolled veterans across the state. The agency has a staff of around 1,200, working from 17 care sites and covering an area of nearly 150,000 square miles.

One of the major concerns the VA has heard from the people they serve is about turnover among health providers. Hayman said they have been actively recruiting.

In her presentation, she said they will be bringing in additional physicians later this year at Fort Harrison and at facilities in Bozeman and Billings. Other facilities are also expected to hire providers.

A new clinic is planned in Missoula.

Hayman said they have now filled most of their vacancies. “We have many more fully functioning Patient Aligned Care Teams across the state than we’ve had probably in the last year or more,” she said.

The VA is also working to expand a number of its sites around Montana.

At Fort Harrison, that includes plans for an outpatient mental health building and an addition to house primary care services. In places like Anaconda and Havre, the agency is looking for larger clinic spaces that could allow them to bring in additional providers.

Hayman said data shows their efforts are having positive effects and that veterans have seen reduced wait times when looking for care.

She also highlighted several of the VA’s other initiatives, including suicide prevention programs and greater focuses on women’s health and on “whole health” and wellness.

Those who attended Wednesday’s presentation said they’re hoping to see more improvements from the VA. They brought up issues they have seen when seeking care, with things like primary care, behavioral health and peer support groups.

“You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you,” said Tom Johnson.

Hayman said leaders are listening, and that they want to hear from more veterans around Montana, “we always appreciate feedback,” she said. “If we don’t know something, we can’t improve our process.”