Susan Mackenzie took the helm of the Providence VA Medical Center in October 2013, at a time when many combat veterans have returned to the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe emotional and physical challenges, adding to the needs presented by the older veterans of World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. The Providence VA center has a budget of $231 million and provides care to 35,000 veterans from Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.
PBN: What do you see as your greatest challenge in your new position at the Providence VA Medical Center?
MACKENZIE: Our challenge is to continue improving the services we provide to ensure we are meeting [veterans’] needs. I don’t tend to consider issues as challenges – I look at them as opportunities. Health care is changing all the time, and we are constantly adapting to new ways of treating patients, new medications and new regimens. We’re adapting to the different age populations of veterans, from the younger veterans to the aging World War II veterans to the Vietnam era veterans, many of whom initially didn’t seek care from the VA in large numbers, and now they’re doing that.
PBN: What do you see as your most important advantage in your new position in Providence?
MACKENZIE: Our strongest advantage is the dedicated staff, who truly believe in VA’s mission to provide exceptional health care to such a deserving population as Rhode Island’s veterans. Many of our employees are veterans themselves or have a loved one who is a veteran, so they have a personal investment.
PBN: Do you see this as a particularly challenging time for VA health care?
MACKENZIE: Actually, I see this as an exceptional time in VA health care and some great achievements have been made locally to meet the needs of all our returning veterans – those with the medical issues you’ve described, and those with far more subtle challenges.