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Meet the new Dayton VA Medical Center director

headshot of Dr. Jennifer DeFrancesco, posing in front of an american flag, wearing a blue suit
Dayton VA Medical Center
Dr. Jennifer DeFrancesco, Dayton VA Medical Center director.

The Dayton VA Medical Center has been busy, enrolling hundreds of newly eligible veterans, expanding primary care access, and more.

In the past 70 days — in the wake of expanded benefits for toxin-exposed veterans — the Dayton VA has newly enrolled over 450 veterans.

Dr. Jennifer DeFrancesco, who was named director for the Dayton VA Medical Center, shared these changes and more in a recent interview with WYSO's Jerry Kenney.

DeFrancesco had served in the role as acting director since July 2023, before being named permanent director in January.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Jennifer DeFrancesco: It's really been an honor.

The Dayton VA is a National Historic Landmark, as you probably know. We have been providing health care here on our campus for 157 years.

One of the things that I love is, even though I've worked at the Dayton VA since 2017, I learned something new every week about the history and the culture with that. And I love how honoring that heritage of healing and providing cutting-edge care kind of collides here.

One of the things our building where we actually prep our meals and make our meals for our veterans used to be the chow hall. Civil War soldiers used to eat in that building and congregate in there, and I just find that really exciting and how we honored that.

You also probably know we have 283 acres here on our campus. So really fostering that therapeutic environment. But our 351 beds, we're keeping them busy and full.

We've really been working on our quality since I've been here in 2017. On VA standards, when I started here, we were a three out of five star in quality, and we are a very high four approaching five star on internal VA qualities. We're honoring your service, and we're going to take really, really good care of you.

Jerry Kenney: Since you mentioned quality of care. Certainly a past challenge has been support from the federal level. Can you give me an overall assessment of the situation today and how VA hospitals are running?

DeFrancesco: Absolutely. So I'm going to answer you in two ways. This community is really, really invested in the health, healing and well-being of our veterans. So where we may legally have a line in the sand based on our appropriations, we have all of these partners in the community, and they really come around our veterans like this hug of really therapeutic services.

We really treasure that, and I think that's one of the amazing things about the Dayton area and the Miami Valley is that people just really value our veterans and want to make sure, again, that they're very invested in their health, healing and well-being.

For challenges for the VA, one of the things that we did in 2023 was we actually increased our staff by 350 people, so, over 10% increase in our staff, many of them in direct patient care. So our EMS providers, social workers think of folks like that. And because of that, we actually expanded our capacity and improved our access and wait times.

People who we used to send to the community may not be eligible anymore because we've improved our access and wait times. Now we're in the process of working to bring those folks back in.

We've stood up a referral coordination team that helps kind of coordinate that care and do those things. But it's certainly a change that our veterans are seeing.

But the great news is we've increased our primary care access by about 11%, as well as our mental health. Our inpatient occupancy has increased by about 9% year-to-date from last year.

And I give you those numbers just to say that our entire workload has increased a little over 13%. But there's a veteran behind each and every one of those numbers.

We've expanded our care so that we can take care of more veterans here at the Dayton VA, and we're doing that, and we want veterans to know that they can come here.

One of the other challenges you may have heard or seen in the news: March 5, we expanded PACT Act— screening and the toxic exposure entitlements — we expanded that to many veterans. So there are a lot of veterans in this community who are now eligible for VA care who weren't before.

And it's very hard to get the word out about that. Some veterans, they think if I go there, I'm taking care away from others. So 1) we're getting the word out. Any veteran can go to VA.gov and sign up and enroll. And 2) also want to let veterans know if you come here, you're not necessarily taking the place of another person when you come here. We get more resources then we can take care of war veterans.

So it's actually helps us add to our services here and really invest in them based on what our veterans need.

In the past 70 days, we have actually enrolled over 450 veterans. New veterans who were never or who weren't eligible for VA care before.

We've been really enrolling veterans at about a net 50 each week, which is significantly higher than we had seen before.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.