- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A top U.S. Veterans Affairs official on Friday announced a new director for the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, ending a four-year period in which the hospital has operated under primarily interim leadership.

Wade Vlosich will join the hospital as director in May, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said at a news conference while visiting the hospital with Republican Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford of Oklahoma. Since April 2012, the hospital has operated under five interim directors. The one director to hold a permanent title in that time was Daniel Marsh, who served for 14 months.

The senators described Gibson’s visit and the installation of a permanent director in Oklahoma City as steps in the right direction for the state’s beleaguered VA system.

“We’ve been waiting for years to be able to get permanent leadership,” Lankford said. “To be able to get a permanent, qualified, good director here will make a big difference.”

Gibson’s trip this week was his first visit to VA hospitals in Muskogee and Oklahoma City, he said. He spoke Friday with hospital leadership, employees, patients and the state’s two U.S. senators and reviewed details about the hospital’s performance.

Gibson said the Oklahoma City hospital performs better than the average VA facility in terms of adjusted length of stay, mortality rates and mental-health wait times. The challenge, he said, is making sure patients are offered care that is consistent in quality and accessibility.

Although Inhofe and Lankford praised outgoing Oklahoma City interim director Gerald Darnell, they have been critical of local VA leadership in the past and have introduced a bill that would allow regional VA networks to remove top facility leaders. In February, the VA removed the chief of staff for the Jack C. Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Muskogee.

“I am really confident that some of the problems were leadership problems, problems that I believe have been tackled,” Inhofe said.

Still, Inhofe said his office receives complaints daily from Oklahoma residents about wait times and unresponsiveness at the state’s VA hospitals.

Vlosich has served since January 2014 as director of the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. He oversaw initiatives there intended to improve access to care and decrease wait times.

Vlosich will take over an Oklahoma City VA Medical Center that serves more than 61,000 veterans and has an operating budget of $460 million.

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