NM VA health care system gets new director

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, facing complaints over inefficiencies and long waiting lists, announced Friday that the leader of the Amarillo Veterans Affairs’ Health Care System has been appointed as the director of the VA health care system in New Mexico.

The embattled department said Andrew Welch will be responsible for the overall management of a tertiary medical care facility in Albuquerque and 11 outpatient clinics. Those clinics provide primary care and mental health services to veterans throughout New Mexico and southern Colorado.

The appointment comes after a wide-ranging national audit released earlier this year showed more than 1,000 veterans had been waiting three months or more for initial medical appointments within the New Mexico system.

Administrators blamed the backlog on a lack of primary care physicians.

At the time, New Mexico officials acknowledged that close to 3,000 patients were assigned to a doctor who didn’t actually see them and was available only by phone.

Officials said last month they are still trying to recruit more staff members.

Federal officials had promised to appoint a New Mexico director who would make the system for efficient and transparent.

“Andy will bring valuable experience and leadership to the New Mexico VAHCS,” said Lisa Freeman, acting director for the VA Southwest Healthcare Network. “He has a wealth of experience, having led the Amarillo VAHCS for the last six years.”

The Amarillo system served parts of eastern New Mexico.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he was pleased VA Secretary Robert McDonald finally appointed a permanent director at the New Mexico VA Health Care System because it still faced a number of challenges.

“I met with Mr. Welch at the Clovis Community-Based Outpatient Clinic last year, and I was impressed by his dedication in serving the veterans of eastern New Mexico,” Udall said.

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