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'Numbers are improving, not yet where they need to be' | VA Secretary visits Memphis VA Medical Center

New local and national leadership cited better patient reviews but promised more strides in the months ahead.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Tuesday, for the first time in three years, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough toured and checked in on the Memphis VA Medical Center.

In previous years, under previous leadership, the hospital perennially ranked among the worst VA hospitals in the nation for patient experience.

New local and national VA leadership want to change that.

ABC24 caught up with one longtime patient: Melvin Williams.

“The Memphis VA means the utmost to me because I don't have nowhere else to go," Williams said.

Since 1979, the Memphis VA Medical Center helped Williams get through bouts of addiction and more recently, yearly checkups.

Today, he's thriving as a chef and volunteer at Alpha Omega Veterans Services.

“My medication is on time and everything the doctors do is up to par, so I can't say anything about the VA, it's the best," Williams said.

Improving that medical care experience for other Mid-South veterans beyond Williams is the mission of Memphis VA Medical Center CEO Joe Vaughan, who took over in recent months.

“It's a big organization, things will happen, we have to make sure that when they do we fix them and they don't happen again," Vaughan said after hosting VA Sec. McDonough.

From 2016 to 2018, the Memphis VA, and only a few other hospitals, reported consecutive years of a one-star ranking in a quality of care system.

"Those numbers are improving, they're not yet where they need to be, Joe made very clear to his team and to me today that he wants to see that number north of 90%," Sec. McDonough said.

The VA scrapped its previous hospital ranking system in 2019.

In its place, patients in a new Medicare ranking system gave the Memphis VA two-stars overall but it still lags behind the state and national average in several metrics.

“I say if you've had a bad experience before, something didn't go right in the past, give us another shot and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised what you find," Vaughan added.

Williams echoed that sentiment and pushed back on the poor patient reviews.

“It was surprising, it shocked me almost, most of all shocked me because I was thinking of how the VA took care of me," Williams said.

Sec. McDonough also cited the encouraging work for women recently at the Memphis VA Medical Center.

Women make up the fastest-growing demographic among VA patients.

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