TAMPA -- After a national scandal in which veterans waited weeks and months for medical care nationwide, the director of Tampa's veteran's hospital has a simple but strong message to avoid ignoring vets: Answer the phone.
Starting today, people calling the James A. Haley VA Hospital may have an easier time actually reaching someone at the facility.
Hospital director Kathleen R. Fogarty sent an email Monday to the hospital's 4,900 employees saying veterans calling the hospital should not have to endure long wait times or voice mails while trying to reach someone.
The e-mail read, in part: "We get feedback about the frustration of calling our medical center just about every time we engage with our veterans. They wait to get through, and once they do, the phone just rings on the other end - sometimes for 20 minutes or more!"
Fogarty also told employees in the message that it is the responsibility of all hospital employees to answer phones.
"It is the first rule of good customer service and to be a five-star organization we must answer calls in a timely manner and return voicemail messages."
The move is part of a larger measure to improve service at the VA.
All this comes as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is working to rebuild its image after a series of crises, including allegations of wrongful deaths caused by delayed medical care at a Phoenix VA facility.
According to partner newspaper the Tampa Bay Times, Haley is working to implement a new patient scheduling system and adding a digital services team to better connect veterans to doctors and nurses.
Recruitment also is a top priority of the Tampa VA, as Fogarty said the hospital will expand recruitment to fill positions with highly qualified medical professionals.