The Importance of Human Resources in Customer Service

A contracted mobile CT scanner brought in to support a VA hospital CT construction project sits idle in a parking lot due to a lack of human resources. With a rumored cost to taxpayers of approximately $45,000/month there are no technologists available at the institution to run the scanner and provide veteran access to this important imaging service. Furthermore, the absent human resources has prevented timely access to CT services during second/third shifts, and weekends, affecting the Emergency Department and inpatient veterans who need scans. Many of these after-hours studies are being outsourced to a local private hospital, requiring the added cost of ambulance transportation.

Meanwhile, daytime scans are being performed on an in-house low quality 16 slice hybrid SPECT/CT machine, potentially displacing veterans who need nuclear medicine exams.

As the idle mobile CT unit continues to collect dust in the parking lot one employee quipped, “I hope that thing is gone before the snow flies or it will burn.”

Let’s hope it is another mild winter. More attention needs to be paid to the relationship between VA Human Resources and veteran access.  As Human Resources is the link between internal customers (employees) and external customers (veterans and their families), their mission is critical.

A Duty to Scan

Imagine a Veteran’s Hospital where taxpayers have provided tens of millions of dollars of CT and MRI equipment. Imagine that hospital has a 8-12 week backlog of veterans who would benefit from these exams and salaried radiologists ready to interpret the images and pass that knowledge back to the organization’s customers.

Continue to imagine there is a bottleneck; the technologists needed to move veterans through the scanners are not available. Does that Veteran’s Hospital have a duty to hire as many technologists as possible and maximize the capacity of those scanners? Does the hospital have a duty to scan, and is it negligent not to do so? If a principle mission of the Veteran’s Hospital is responsible stewardship of taxpayer resources, the answer is yes. Let me explain.

Currently our Veterans Administration has the ability to outsource clinical duties to private hospitals when demand cannot be met internally. However, when they do so in Radiology, taxpayers must reimburse a small piece of the investment that the private hospital made in their own scanner. This is known as the technical component of the fee and that private hospital will send a bill to the taxpayer that includes it. If the scanner at the VA were being run at peak capacity this technical component paid to the private hospital would be justifiable. However, if there is idle capacity in the hardware at the Veteran’s Hospital, taxpayers are effectively buying something that they have already purchased.

Stewardship of taxpayer resources would suggest there is a duty to scan within the VA system and that outsourcing of imaging is only appropriate when that VA equipment is being run on weekends and second shifts. It is critical to have an administration and Human Resources department that understands this duty.

Veterans Affairs Mission Statement: Set and Fixed in Metal

I took a course in marketing recently. The first lesson taught was the importance of knowing who you are as an organization. This knowledge, distilled into a mission statement, can serve as the central piece of what should be ongoing internal and external dialogues. If you do not know who you are, you are going to have difficulty with your employees and customers. But this knowledge alone is not enough. When you are not transparent about your needs, values, and intentions it is difficult to partner with anyone, be they the person at the counter, in the next office, or on the other side of your bed.

Most hospitals market poorly; this is often a product of not clearly defining, adhering to, or effectively translating their missions. Perhaps it is not surprising that our largest heath care system, the Veterans Administration, often struggles with marketing. Here is the VA mission statement as imbedded in a recent job posting.

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So, the VA’s mission goes back to the days of President Lincoln. While he may have been our greatest president and one of our greatest leaders, I am sure he knew nothing about modern medicine. Furthermore, the statement relegates women to the role of grieving spouse in a military where only men go into battle.

Thankfully, orphans of veterans are significantly less prevalent today than in Lincoln’s time. The vast majority of our veterans return alive; but the wounded are missing limbs and carry psychological scars that are not easy to diagnose or treat. These injuries greatly impact their families and children in a way Lincoln could not have imagined.

The job posting which carries this mission statement tries to make up for its inherent sexism with the tag line about caring for “the men and women who are America’s Veterans” but succeeds only in making it more awkward and wordy. Our military’s and country’s current values of equal opportunity and modern health care are not supported by this mission statement. How many outstanding healthcare workers and potential employees might be discouraged by its implied lack of sensitivity, or worse, awareness? It is time for our Veterans Administration to update their mission statement. In the process of doing so, they may clarify, inform, and unify their sense of purpose and identity. Distilling this awareness into a clear and concise mission statement may in turn elevate the organization and enhance communication between their employees, within the American culture, and with their veteran customers.