CARIBOU, Maine — The chief executive officer of a Caribou hospital that is part of a pilot program offering health care to veterans in northern Maine told lawmakers in Washington, D.C., Wednesday that Project ARCH works exceptionally well for those it serves.
Kris Doody, CEO of the Cary Medical Center in Caribou, appeared before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to update lawmakers on Project ARCH and the need to secure funding to extend or expand the program.
Cary Medical Center in Caribou is one of five facilities in the country selected as program test sites. Under Project ARCH, veterans in northern Maine no longer have to drive hundreds of miles to receive health care, but are able seek out treatment at Cary.
Doody cited the experience of Peter Miesburger, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force.
“It’s the best thing since peanut butter,” she quoted Miesburger, a 77-year-old Korean War veteran, as saying. He suffered a broken hip on Jan. 30 when he fell at his home in Caribou, but, thanks to Project ARCH, he didn’t have to worry about a 250-mile ambulance ride, Doody told lawmakers.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud included the program in a 2008 bill he helped pass — the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act. For many veterans in northern Maine, it’s a nearly 600-mile round-trip journey to the nearest VA health care facility in Augusta.
Under the pilot program, veterans are eligible to participate if, among other criteria, they reside more than 60 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing primary care services and more than 120 minutes drive time from the nearest VA facility providing acute hospital care.
“Project ARCH is working. Ask our veterans in northern Maine,” Doody said in her testimony. “There is no doubt that veterans living in remote, frontier areas of our country are at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to accessing care. … It takes time and effort to build the trust of veterans, many of whom have never approached the VA for health care.”
“At Cary Medical Center we made this a top priority and we have demonstrated that when treated with respect, gratitude and compassion, the veterans community will not only respond but they will create an unbreakable bond and reach out to their comrades who may be in need of care,” she continued.
Doody said that over the past three years, the hospital has worked together with VA Project ARCH staff to enroll some 1,400 veterans in the program. Their combined efforts also have helped drastically reduce wait times for veterans seeking services, she said.
“I was pleased that Kris Doody had the opportunity to join our committee today and share the successes of the ARCH program with members of Congress,” Michaud said in a written statement Wednesday. “I firmly believe that Project ARCH can offer us insightful guidance as we look for national solutions to the VA crisis. I’m proud of Project ARCH, and I continue to hear from so many veterans all across The County who have been able to receive high-quality medical care, close to the comforts of their family and friends, because of ARCH. I won’t stop working until the VA commits to officially extending this critical program.”
Doody estimated that the travel costs alone for these veterans to travel to Togus for those appointments would have exceeded $600,000.
The other four ARCH pilot sites are in Farmville, Virginia; Pratt, Kansas; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Billings, Montana.
Cary Medical Center is a 65-bed acute care hospital, and both the facility and its staff have won state and national awards for quality in both customer service and clinical performance, according to the hospital’s website. The hospital employs 540 people, 60 active medical staff providers, 100 courtesy and consulting physicians, and 75 volunteers.