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The Sheridan VA is changing some of its treatment practices due to a lack of healthcare staff

Catherine Wheeler
Wyoming Public Media

The Sheridan VA has changed how it treats some veterans due to a lack of healthcare staff at their Sheridan campus and throughout their system, which covers the majority of Wyoming. These positions are primarily in the nursing field, which have been difficult to fill for years, according to VA officials.

“It’s here [the nursing shortage] and it really is having an impact on the nursing staff in Wyoming,” said Pam Crowell, Director of the Sheridan VA Healthcare System. “It’s having a real impact on us here in Sheridan as we try to maintain programs.”

There are several major reasons for nurses leaving the VA, which include the stresses associated with the pandemic, taking better paying jobs as travel nurses, and objections to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We also have the federally mandated vaccination requirement, and that has also added stress to our nursing staff, and that some nursing staff are making the decision not to be vaccinated and are looking for employment in other systems,” she said. “So, we kind of have the double whammy of staff retirements, people moving, and the added pressure of staff leaving because of the vaccination requirement.”

The shortage has led to some shifts in veteran care. This includes changing urgent care access to primary care walk-in services and limiting the number of patients in some inpatient medical units.

“I really want to emphasize that we are here to take care of veterans, and that we will coordinate care if we can’t take care of them here on the Sheridan campus, and they're a current veteran of ours, we will coordinate community care for them, and help them kind of navigate the system,” Crowell explained. “So, I don't want veterans to think that we aren't here or that we don't have the capacity to take care of them. We do, we just have to do it in slightly different ways.”

Approximately 60 nursing positions are currently vacant and VA officials are aggressively hiring in an attempt to fill them. This includes marketing themselves and hiring graduates from the University of Wyoming’s nursing program and from two-year program graduates from the state’s community colleges. The VA offers opportunities for nurses and educational opportunities to advance their level of education, Crowell explained. These include the opportunity to get their bachelor’s degree in nursing in addition to mentorship programs to assist in their VA healthcare career.

Housing is also an issue that the VA is having to contend with in attracting and hiring new staff. Sheridan is lacking in housing options and the prices of housing and rentals continue to increase.

The VA has clinical contact centers, which are medical and clinical personnel that can be reached on a dedicated hotline to assist in determining the level of care someone might need. Crowell said it’s another resource veterans can utilize to talk to a live person if they aren’t feeling well but don’t require immediate medical intervention, such as what 911 operators could provide. The Sheridan facility can be reached by calling 307-672-3473.

Sheridan’s VA Healthcare System treats approximately 13,000 veterans annually.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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