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New Tucson VA Director on the hot seat: His plans to improve troubled facility

Posted at 10:37 PM, Mar 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-23 13:57:50-04
William Caron is a veteran having served a few years in the Naval Reserves and Air Force, though he's never seen combat. He's a trained physical therapist but took on more leadership and managerial roles in the VA -- including his last stint as acting director in Las Vegas.
He's now sitting on the hot seat overseeing a much larger established facility where, according to a just-released federal report, serious problems persist.
Cavazos: Are you familiar with my investigations? 
Caron: Some. The glory of YouTube.
He's seen our KGUN9 story of the Tucson doctor who resigned months ago after feeling overworked and overloaded with patients for three years because of the high turnover rate of primary care physicians. Dr. William Rees had said, "(Schedulers) say we don't have anything available for 60 to 90 days. I hear that everyday. All day long. I had a guy come in last week and said he waited nine months to see me."
Caron said he's already tackling that issue. "So when we talk about accesses as you've been reporting on for several months now if access has gone afoul, then we're not coordinating care effectively, and that puts veterans at risk."
He said the remedy requires a deeper dive into the staffing shortages and he's already preparing to work with a regional team. "They'll bring forward what they perceive is their staffing needs. We'll work with them to make sure they're capturing workload effectively. Primary care, for example, has that panel been scrubbed. Is it accurate? Is it 1200 patients or is it 12,000 patients?
Though the latest OIG report reveals poor ratings in Routine and Urgent Care Appointments with Primary and Specialty Physicians, Caron says the internal data he's reviewed shows 95 percent of current patients are seen in less than a week.  
Cavazos: I'm hearing from veterans who are very frustrated. What I'm hearing you say -- versus what I'm -- Caron: So if they're not getting ... I want to know why. And they need to be calling, and they need to be answered and followed up on.
Easy to say, but he claims he made it work effectively in Las Vegas. "So we really got down to brass tax foundational, fundamental problems. A lot of it was follow up and follow through," said Caron.
Caron is also aware of the culture of deception and fear that's existed for years in the Tucson VA -- claims from whistleblowers who faced retaliation from their superiors after they reported unethical practices. "So I heard some of those things. What I developed before I got here were a series of transition briefings to make sure I got all internal and external stakeholders captured. And I'm doing those unilaterally. I'm doing them in group forms and individual sessions where it's just me there because sometimes we don't get all the information that we could get if their supervisor of service chief is there."
So far, he's been hearing from the staff there's been a positive cultural change over the past year. When asked what he was hired to do, he said, "I think very similar to what I did in Las Vegas. Bring a sense of stability -- number one."
And restore confidence in veterans who've lost faith that the VA system will take good care of them.
Cavazos: How do you restore that faith?
Caron: Again, down to the foundation. Are there cracks in the foundation? That's part of my 90 days plan -- looking at the very basic I Care values. I'm acting with integrity. I'm standing here with you talking to the public, and if I'm being less than forthcoming, then I would be wavering from those core values. So I will not waiver on integrity.
But the veterans -- the community -- have called for other values, not on that I-Care list.
Cavazos: They are looking for accountability and transparency, Are you going to give them that? 
Caron: Absolutely. I wear my heart on my sleeve.