FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Tuba City Regional Healthcare Corporation (TCRHCC) is working to improve access to high quality healthcare for Native American veterans after signing an agreement this summer with the Veterans Administration (VA).
The health care center will now be able to submit claims directly to the VA for the veterans it serves and be reimbursed for the services it provides those veterans.
Violet Skinner, utilization review director for TCRHCC, said that is important because it increases revenue and the operation budget for the hospital so that it can provide more services.
"Whether it is more providers, more housing for providers so that we can bring them to our rural area, whether it is bringing on more specialties, expanding our facility... that's all about increasing access and improving the care," Skinner said. "This just adds another revenue option for us."
But Skinner said reimbursement alone does not improve the access to quality care.
"It's through ... the tribal health care provider collaborating with the VA to get the veteran the healthcare services they need," she said. "No one healthcare facility offers all the services they need so we have to partner and collaborate to get the veteran through the health system to the services they need."
The healthcare center worked with the Prescott VA to train its staff, case managers and department directors directly involved with veterans care to make sure the training was tailored to the population that TCRHCC serves. The training focused on understanding what resources are available for veterans through the VA health system and how to access those resources.
"[Our case managers] learned it directly from the VA," Skinner said.
The patient benefit coordinators learned how to assist veterans in applying for health benefits through the VA healthcare system.
"That's critical," Skinner said. "Nation-wide it shows there are many veterans who aren't enrolled. But specific to our population, what we're seeing in our initial data... we're seeing close to 80 percent aren't enrolled."
The patient benefit coordinators are also able to help veterans fill out the 1010EZ, which is the application form for benefits. The turnaround is faster if the veteran has their DD214 discharge paperwork. The patient benefit coordinators can be reached at LeChee Health Center, Tuba City Regional Healthcare Center, Flagstaff Medical Center, and Sacred Peaks.
Skinner believes there are a variety of reasons that veterans do not enroll for the benefits that are due to them after they have served. Younger veterans who joined when they were 18 and got out of the service when they were in their 20s may still be young and healthy and not feel the need to seek healthcare services yet.
"If they don't apply within time, which I believe is five years, they lose that eligibility," Skinner said. "There are very few exceptions to that. If they wait, they may lose that opportunity."
Skinner said another reason for the low number of enrolled Native American veterans is the rural places where some Native Americans live and the lack of information about where and how to apply. Skinner said patient benefit coordinators are available to help identify veterans, assist them to enroll and also check on their eligibility status. When a veteran is enrolled in the VA health system their access to healthcare increases.
"It increases their options, it increases their choices," Skinner said.
Traditionally, veterans who needed access to the VA health system would need to go to the Prescott VA, but a new facility is also up and running in Flagstaff and a telehealth outpatient clinic is available in Page.
TCRHCC is on track to open a primary telehealth outpatient clinic - a VA clinic - this spring. The outpatient clinic will give the VA two rooms staffed by the VA and a provider through telehealth, which is a television screen. While the clinic is a separate entity, it enables veterans to have greater access to specialty services that the hospital offers.
"That is another option for them to get VA services in Tuba," Skinner said. "It tightens up the coordination of care."
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