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St. Mary’s CEO attends US Senate panel

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By Natasha LaFayette

natasha@lafollettepress.com  

A Campbell County executive recently had his voice heard in Washington, DC., speaking out on medical care for veterans in rural areas.

On Feb. 26 St. Mary’s CEO Alan Watson participated as a representative at a United States Senate Committee Panel discussion speaking from a rural hospital perspective.

“We spoke of the challenges with no veteran’s hospitals in the area,” said Watson.

While efforts to establish a Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic in Campbell County have been in the works for almost a year, a clinic would not provide the specialized care provided by larger medical institutions.

The meeting was held at the Senate Russell Building for the purpose of gathering information. Democratic, Republican and Independent senators from 15 different states sit on the Committee for Veteran’s Affairs.

The senators heard from a panel of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs representatives and a panel of community providers.

“We feel very strongly about providing great care to veterans who have fought for our country,” said Watson of the community provider’s panel.

In an hour-long session, each panel addressed the committee on issues faced in rural communities.

Items addressed by the community providers was the need for improved communication between VA physicians and local physicians, improved methods of placing veterans in long-term facilities and the need for specialized providers to be closer to veterans.

In Campbell County, the closest specialized care for veterans is an hour’s drive, said Watson.

And veteran nursing homes are very rare and difficult to be admitted to, Watson added.

The committee had senators from states with rural areas such as Ohio, Hawaii, Washington and Alaska. But there were also senators from Pennsylvania, Georgia and Illinois on the committee.

There were no representatives from Tennessee on the panels or the committee other than Watson, he said.

The committee listened to the issues, taking note of possible future endeavors. There is currently no legislation in the process of going forward and the meeting was held strictly for informational purposes, said Watson.

“It was a successful presentation,” said Watson. “It was a privilege to do something to help the veterans receive better health care.”