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Lessons Learned as Director at Tampa's VA

Bobbie O'Brien
WUSF Public Media

Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center will soon have a new director. Marjorie Hedstrom, the medical center director at the VA in Popular Bluff, Mo., will take over in just over a week.

The current director, Kathleen Fogarty, is leaving Haley by choice.

She’s taken the same position at a smaller, less hectic VA hospital in Kansas City. That’s after almost four years at one of the nation’s busiest veteran medical centers serving some 200,000 veterans living in the Tampa Bay region.

“I began my career at the Kansas City VA medical center as a clinical dietician in 1986,” Fogarty said.

The 55-year-old director said she’s breaking her rule -- to never go back to a previous place of employment. But after serving 32 years in the VA system, she said she is ready to “go home.”

She said the Kansas City VA is not as complex or as busy as Haley, but it will help her ease into retirement while bringing lessons learned at Haley.

One of those lessons became very public when a family went to the news media about the VA placing a surveillance camera inside the smoke detector of their family member’s room.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Haley VA director Kathleen Fogarty chats with a veteran inside the hospital's American Heroes Cafe.

“Do I have regrets? I don’t have regrets. I know the decision was made for the safety of that patient,” Fogarty said. “Would I do something differently? I would make a huge sign on the camera. And would I choose that camera? No. I’ve said I wouldn’t choose that type of camera ever again.”

She said the episode prompted other changes like the creation of a code of conduct for families.

Another issue prevalent throughout the Veterans health care system has been long waiting lists for care.  It’s one of the reasons why Fogarty was temporarily tapped to take over VISN 18, the VA network that oversees the troubled Phoenix medical  center which sparked the whole VA scandal.

“I don’t want you to believe that we have fixed all access problems here at James A Haley because we still ... we have a tremendous amount of requests for specialty types of care,” Fogarty said.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Haley VA director Kathleen Fogarty attending the retirement ceremony of one of Haley's most wounded soldiers, Army Staff Sgt. Joel Tavera.

To handle that demand, Fogarty extended clinic hours and added Saturday appointments, especially in the area of mental health. And for women veterans, Fogarty was instrumental in getting features like a separate entrance designed in the women’s clinic at the VA’s primary care annex.

“I don’t think that there are a lot of VAs that have put lactation rooms in. It was pretty rare to even have a child’s play area,” Fogarty said. “We listened and we really think we have a model.”

Other milestones under her watch at Haley:

  • The first VA hospital in the country to have a USO day room.
  • The opening of the new Polytrauma Medical Center with a climbing wall and other X Game type recreation.
  • The opening of the American Heroes Café – a restaurant setting inside the hospital.
  • The opening of a 10 bed palliative and hospice unit.
  • A new urology unit.
  • A 100-bed spinal cord injury unit that mirrors the same family resources as the polytrauma center.
  • The opening of a 1,501 space parking garage and valet parking at Haley’s two main entrances.

Fogarty will remain as the interim director of VISN 18 until a permanent director takes over then she will settle into her new post in Kansas City. She wasn’t sure of her last day at Haley, however, her replacement starts Feb. 2.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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