Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System
FVAMC partners with Army to increase services for women Veterans
March 24, 2011
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Thanks to a partnership with the Fort Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center, women Veterans now have access to services that weren't available in the Fayetteville VAMC less than a year ago.
Dr. Mark Griffo, a FVAMC gynecologist, spearheaded the efforts that now allow him to perform surgical procedures at the Army facility that currently can't be done in-house due to the surgical complexity level at the VA facility. Before the resource sharing agreement was formalized, women Veterans would have been sent to other providers in the community on a fee-basis.
Griffo, who at one point taught pelvic and laparoscopic surgery at the University of Missouri and was in private practice before coming to the VA, said the new arrangement is a win-win situation for both the VA and the Army.
"(Womack is) a teaching hospital. They have residents on staff and they're working to get a gynecology resident program," Griffo said. "We win because there's no fee basis and we get to see our patients at Womack. They win because we get to teach their residents some of the surgical procedures."
While he isn't doing a wide variety of surgeries at this point, Griffo said he hopes to change that in the near future, just as the variety of treatment options for women is increasing at the FVAMC itself. Between new medical equipment and the new Women's Health Pavilion currently under construction here, the doctor said it's obvious that the VA is placing an emphasis on one of the fastest growing VA population – women Veterans.
From January 2009 to January 2011, the number of Veterans enrolled for their health care needs at the FVAMC increased by 9.1 percent. In that same time frame, the number of enrolled women Veterans increased by 18.2 percent. Of the more than 47,000 Veterans enrolled at Fayetteville, more than 5,000 are women, and that number is expected to increase just as the number of women in the military has increased to the point that almost 14 percent of those on active duty are women while 18 percent of Guard and Reserve members are women.
While the surgical agreement with Womack is exciting, there are things happening in-house that show that the VA is no longer a "Boys Club," which is a stereotype many people have. A new and expanded Women's Health Pavilion is currently under construction at the facility, and among new equipment acquisitions, Griffo now uses a urodynamic machine in the women's clinic.
He's been told that this diagnostic tool is the only one of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network. The machine is used to help determine what is happening when a women is suffering from incontinence, a fairly common problem that can have multiple causes. A 20-minute exam using the new machine can help the physician determine the proper treatment for each patient, since treating the wrong cause can make the problem worse instead of better, Griffo said.
He's also using a new piece of equipment that can help women avoid a hysterectomy in some cases, as well as equipment that helps him treat women who have abnormal pap smears.
The overall goal, Griffo explained, is to work toward making the Fayetteville VAMC a Center of Excellence for Women's Health, a goal that has the full backing of Medical Center Director Elizabeth Goolsby.
"You have to realize that by shooting to make us a Center of Excellence for Women's Health, it helps the entire system," Griffo explained. "That's because they look at the entire system, for instance how long it might take to get an ENT appointment. If we're improving the system for women, we're improving it for everybody. If we bring up the operating room so we can do other surgeries for women, we'll also be bringing it up so we can do other surgeries for men as well."
So far, Griffo said, the women he sees during his practice have been happy with the changes they've seen in the VA, but he feels there's more that can be done.
"I'm really excited about what we've started doing here and how we've progressed. The director is behind us and I think we're going to get somewhere," Griffo said. "As we work to be a center of excellence, I want the Fayetteville VAMC to be a provider of choice for the community, someplace they want to come for their care because they know they'll get the best care possible."
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