FOX 11 Investigates follow up: Surgery center open at Green Bay VA clinic
It took more than a year and a half but veterans can finally have outpatient surgery at the Green Bay VA clinic.
The Milo C. Huempfner outpatient clinic opened in August of 2013... The facility has a state-of-the-art surgery center.
But for more than a year and a half, doctors could not perform any surgeries there. That finally changed last month.
"As of June 1st, we've officially gone live for our surgical center," said Dr. Shiloh Ramos, associate chief of staff at the clinic. "It's a gradual approach until we build up our caseload but we started our first cases as of that point and we're continuing to build from there."
Ramos sat down with FOX 11 Investigates to discuss the types of surgeries being performed at the clinic now and in the future.
"We're looking at hernia repairs; we're looking at what we would call lump and bump removals and biopsies of a number of sorts. Over time we will expand that to certain outpatient orthopedic procedures as well as eye surgeries here."
When asked why it took nearly two years to start surgeries at the clinic, Ramos replied, "These things take time. There are a number of processes we have to go through in terms of recruitment and hiring. We have to hire not only the surgical staff but anesthesia staff and then we have to get ultimate approvals to go live. That's a gradual approach that takes some time to move forward. But we're here now. We're moving forward. We're excited about where we're at now. And we have a plan for continued growth in the surgical services going forward."
FOX 11 Investigates highlighted the surgery center in February. That's when the former director of surgery at the clinic raised concerns about the delay in opening the surgery center.
"I find it very difficult to look at a veteran's eye and tell them no, I can't do the surgery that you have to do," former director of surgery Dr. Per Anderas told us at the time.
Dr. Anderas stepped down from his post in October. The VA says that made the delay even longer because the surgery center couldn't open without a director of surgery. That position was recently filled by Dr. Richard Ellison.
"My real role here is to maximize the use of this facility in order to take care of our veterans so that they don't have to travel so far all the way to Milwaukee or other places or use non-VA health care when we can take of it here," Ellison said.
Dr. Ellison spent 24 years in the U.S. Army. He's now tasked with getting the surgery center up and running.
In June, doctors performed nine surgeries at the clinic.
Republican Congressman Reid Ribble says it's about time.
"The VA, as everyone knows from watching the national news, is this huge bureaucracy that sometimes is very, very difficult to move. At many levels it has all kinds of management problems and so it shouldn't have taken this long," Ribble said.
In January, Ribble had called for a federal investigation into the Green Bay clinic.
"I've never really believed that the problem was here in Green Bay. I believe the problem was in Washington D.C. And I think that's exactly what has transpired," Ribble said.
Ribble says the VA did address his concerns about the delays both in writing and in a meeting with VA staff.
"I don't believe anybody within the VA doesn't want good service to happen for our veterans. But they've been encumbered by bureaucracy that doesn't give them the freedom and empowerment necessarily at the local levels to get that done," Ribble added.
Dr. Ramos says the VA is making improvements.
FOX 11 asked Dr. Ramos what he would say to people who had concerns about the surgery center not being open sooner. He replied, "What I would say is we always welcome concerns. We're always looking for areas to improve. And I think we have improved and grown over the last number of months."
As for Dr. Anderas, while he resigned as the director of surgery he did stay on with the VA part-time. But at the end of February, he resigned from his part-time position and no longer works for the VA.