The Sioux Falls Veterans Affairs hospital was without a director for all of 2019, but the New Year brought a new director.
Lisa Simoneau started at the VA on Monday, setting foot in South Dakota for the first time Saturday. Staff members at the Sioux Falls VA Hospital are already working to help the new director feel at home in South Dakota with some cold weather advice. She came to Sioux Falls from San Antonio, Texas, but says she grew up in Maine and is excited to come to a city with all four seasons again.
“This is the only place I really wanted to come to. Sioux Falls has a fantastic reputation, its one of the top 20 most livable cities,” Simoneau said. “I did a lot of research, it’s a very walk-able city, I love to walk.”
It’s a good thing walking is one of her hobbies. In her first few days at work, she has already done a lot of walking around the massive Sioux Falls facility.
“They gave me a big tour yesterday, almost 10,000 steps. Its beautiful, I admire the interior designer, she’s got a real eye for making this homey and welcoming versus clinical and sterile, which is what the VA is known for,” Simoneau said.
It’s high praise coming from someone who has worked in many VA hospitals around the country for the past 30 years. From Philadelphia, to Miami, San Antonio and her home hospital in Togas, Maine, she has a wealth of experience working with VA medical centers.
“I love the VA, its all I wanted to do after college, I grew up in the VA with my father and my uncles, my uncles were WWII veterans from the pacific theater, my father was a Korean war veteran,” Simoneau said.
That family connection gives her first hand experience of what’s important to many VA families.
“I understand the challenges the families are facing, because it means the daughter, the grandchild, taking time off to get their parent to their treatment,” Simoneau said.
She says making care easily accessible to veterans all over the region is one of her biggest goals.
“I grew up with that in Maine, and even though the VA in Togas is wonderful, for the big procedures you need to get your family down to Boston. So I understand the challenges of having to leave your community to get the care that you need. It’s important to get the community clinics out there to get that first contact, to make it convenient,” she said.
Now she is overseeing the entire Sioux Falls VA Healthcare system with outpatient clinics in Watertown, Aberdeen, Sioux City, Spirit Lake and Wagner. The Sioux Falls VA System serves more than 420,000 veterans with a regional staff of 1,100 to 1,200 employees.
“It’s great to see someone who is going to be there everyday leading the charge for us and making sure that patient care is first and foremost,” VA Human Resource specialist and veteran Brent Weidler said.
Simoneau says the VA’s biggest challenge is meeting the ever-changing needs of the growing veteran population.
“We’re getting a younger population in, they have very different needs from the geriatric population, so it’s dealing with that dichotomy…they’ve got different physical challenges, their campaigns resulted in different illnesses,” Simoneau said.
To meet those unique needs, Simaneua says recruitment is essential at both the hospital and the regional clinics.
“It’s very important that we can attract doctors that can provide the services that each generation needs. And to get those services timely, close to where the veterans are so they’re not losing time from work, especially the younger veterans,” she said.
Simoneau is excited to look out her new office and see the work the Sioux Falls VA is already doing to meet that goal.
“They’ve got a beautiful new oncology clinic, they’re building a new mental health building, there’s a lot of expansion and growth here, I’m very excited to be joining,” Simoneau said.
The new director has a lot of experience overseeing new construction. She most recently came from San Antonio where she helped oversee construction of a new 19,000 square foot outpatient clinic. The Sioux Falls VA mental healthcare facility is estimated to be completed May 2021.