She said her overarching priority mirrors what President Barack Obama and VA acting Secretary Sloan Gibson want: To make sure veterans across the country are getting high-quality care from their doctor when they need it.
The past couple of months have been damning for the VA. Reports surfaced that veterans in Phoenix had been put on secret, fraudulent waitlists and were denied doctor appointments for months. In June, the VA concluded the problem was widespread, with numerous VA facilities hiding long wait times and coercing some employees to falsify appointment and wait-time data.
Clancy—who was director of HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality from 2003-13—said the VA is aggressively reaching out to veterans who have waited months for care, flexing capacity at VA facilities, and adding hours at nights and weekends. But those efforts address only part of the challenge. The department needs to restore veterans' faith that their healthcare system still could be high-functioning and responsive.
“If they don't have trust in the healthcare they're getting, then this goal of providing access to the best quality care almost doesn't mean anything,” Clancy said.
Clancy, an internist, said she was “both humbled and honored” to have been asked to take the position and knew she would accept despite the fact the VA has become a political lightening rod. Improving the VA, she said, is a bipartisan issue.
“All of us work for the veterans,” Clancy said. “There's a very strong sense of mission here.”
Her role at the VA also builds off her interest in medicine. Clancy, who grew up in the Boston area and is the oldest of seven, said she knew at a young age she wanted to be a doctor, specifically within primary care. The “diagnostic challenge” of helping to cure a patient from a difficult starting point excited her. “All of us…say things like I feel weak. I'm really tired. Maybe I have pain,” Clancy said. “A lot of it is really nonspecific.”
“I found that completely fascinating,” she said.
Clancy replaced Dr. Robert Jesse, who served as acting undersecretary for health after Dr. Robert Petzel resigned in May. Last month, the VA created a nine-member commission to select the next permanent health undersecretary, a process that is still ongoing. When asked if she would be interested in the job, Clancy responded that she was “thrilled” by the current opportunity and is taking it one day at a time.
A VA spokeswoman said Clancy could not discuss Obama's pick for VA secretary, Robert McDonald, because the VA does not comment on White House nominees who are not Senate-confirmed.
Follow Bob Herman on Twitter: @MHbherman