I am chief of the Division of Ophthalmology at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. I prefer to fly under the radar, focusing on taking the best care of my patients and serving my profession.
However, the destructive July 13 commentary "Vet's frustrating experience with eye clinic: Unacceptable" was so beyond the pale, with baseless claims, that I must publicly respond.
HIPAA and legal reasons preclude refuting point by point. I respond not for me or the veterans, who already know how great the care now is in our eye clinic, but for the families of those veterans, the public, and for the amazing group of superb young ophthalmologists, optometrists and technicians whom my immediate predecessor and I have assembled over the last four years (since the end of "the contract" for clinical services with the University of Minnesota that was referenced in the July 13 commentary).
These folks are extremely intelligent, accomplished, kind, caring and passionately committed to taking care of our vets. Two of them are the only non-full-time University of Minnesota associated faculty to have won the U's Teacher of the Year Award, and one of our group was the only ophthalmologist serving in Afghanistan for six months. We have unique subspecialists. It is indeed an excellent and diverse group providing primary, secondary and tertiary care. We also retain a strong academic focus, training residents from both the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.
The premise of the July 13 commentary was a single public complaint from a veteran who struggled making an eye clinic appointment ("My dealings with the VA: In a word … frustrating," July 5). This veteran's experience was unfortunate, and I am sorry. We are not perfect; we strive daily to improve, and we do have an enviable record of excellence and success.
There were more than 60,000 visits to our eye clinic last year, so we must be doing something right medically, must be scheduling reasonably and must be able to get patients in the door.
I am dismayed that a whole division of caring providers was condemned based on a single complaint.
The mission of the Minneapolis VA is clear: 1) take the best care of the veterans and 2) help train the next generation of doctors. There is great simplicity, purity and nobility in it. All who serve in our eye division live that mission every day.
My father was a World War II veteran and a family physician for almost five decades. His words of advice to me were simple: "Work hard, do the right thing and take good care of patients." I am also a veteran and am still in the trenches seeing patients. I have spent every day of my career honoring my father's service and words and the profession. I have interviewed every provider in the eye division, and to a person, the No. 1 reason why our staff members enjoy working at the VA is that they want to help veterans.
From a patient perspective, a patient should be able to trust that her/his doctor is good, works to get better and cares. I speak without reservation that those who currently work at the Minneapolis VA Eye Division do that, and as well as any I know.
If a patient were to ask me would I have a family member seen in the eye clinic, my response would be: "In a heartbeat"!
Dr. Emmett F. Carpel was one of the founding members of the Phillips Eye Institute, and he served as its chief of staff and medical director for almost a decade. He was one of the founders of the Eye Department at HealthPartners. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota.