AUGUSTA — What Veterans Affairs Maine Healthcare System Director Tracye Davis finds most striking about returning to Maine is seeing projects she had planned come to fruition.

“Maine has accomplished so much in the time I’ve been away,” Davis said. “I really have to commend all the staff here and their perseverance and their innovation.”

Davis was appointed director in April. She is responsible for overseeing the treatment of about 43,000 veterans and an annual operating budget of more than $350 million. She replaces Ryan Lilly, who is now director of Veterans Integrated Service Network 1, overseeing VA in New England.

“I think she is going to be very open-minded,” said Gary Lawyerson, head of the Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee. “She works for the veterans.”

“Older guys are good, but sometimes the young have good insight,” Lawyerson said. Davis is 38.

Her vision for the VA Maine is to have it set an example for such systems around the nation.

“There are a lot of things that we’re doing here in Maine that I think others can begin to model,” she said. “I want to work towards VA Maine having a more national platform to share some of the things we’re doing here.”

Lawyerson said the transformation of the state’s system is “freaking phenomenal. Twenty years ago when I retired (from the military), Togus was dragging, and they had been looking at closing it.”

This is a return to Maine for Davis, who was associate director of the system from 2013 to 2015. The projects she helped plan that are being implemented include:

The Cabin in Woods, permanent housing for homeless veterans, which is now open and fully occupied;

The Fisher House, which will house veterans and their families during treatment starting this fall; and

Replacement of the Portland community-based outpatient clinic, which will be triple the size of the existing clinic, and the location of which will be announced in June.

“This is all about creating a healing environment for veterans,” she said.

Davis thinks her biggest challenge, because it’s so imminent, will be implementing the VA Mission Act, which will go into effect on June 6.

The act will give veterans more access to health care, both within the VA’s network and through approved non-VA medical providers in the community. Veterans may be able to go to a non-VA provider, using VA coverage if, for example, a certain type of health service isn’t provided by the VA.

“There has been some fear with the Mission Act that this is going to privatize the VA,” she said. “This is going to help streamline how our veterans access community care. But there may be growing pains.”

Another challenge she foresees is the aging infrastructure. “This is the oldest VA in the country,” she said. “We’ll have to make strong proposals when we know we need to replace or renovate spaces.”  

Davis declined to comment about when the dialysis unit would be reopened – it closed in January.

“What we’re focusing on right now is being able to bring in a strong leader,” she said. “Once we have that candidate, we’ll have a better idea of when the unit may open.”

She said her team is recruiting that leader, a nurse manager, who would be responsible for building his or her own team, and additional incentives for that position have been approved in order to fill it.

“We brought some contract staff to help us expand our ability to provide inpatient dialysis,” she said. “Although we’ve had the capability to offer inpatient dialysis, it’s been rather sporadic.”

“Since (the publication of a Kennebec Journal article), we wanted to make sure we had consistent coverage to offer that service.”

Davis has a master’s degree in health administration from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, and a bachelor of science degree in biology from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She did her internship in the private sector.

“I got into it for patient care and to improve patient care,” she said, explaining how her mother, a registered nurse with the VA, encouraged her to work in VA hospitals.

Davis has a passion for long-term care. Early in her career, she worked with dementia care and cultural transformation related to dementia care during her three years at VA Pittsburgh HCS, where she completed her graduate fellowship.

Later, in Arlington, Texas, Davis helped plan three new community-based outcare clinics, as well as the brand new VA healthcare system. During that year, she said she learned “how we as a federal entity have to work with Congress.”

Davis was next transferred to the VA in Dallas, which, in 2008, had been ranked the worst performing VA in the country and gained a lot of media attention. She saw the turnover of the leadership team and became the executive assistant to the executive director.

Dallas had specific challenges, she said, with mental health care, closing that unit for nine months. Davis piloted ideas on new types of furniture and technology to prevent suicide, and the unit saw drastic improvement, she said.

Also there, she ran the domiciliary for mental health, and she established more opportunities to treat substance abuse.

Since her previous stint in Maine, Davis was the deputy director of VA Portland HCS Portland, Oregon, which included two assignments of six months each, during which she was the interim director of both the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, and at VA Long Beach HCS in California.

“That experience taught me that I would really like to be a director,” she said, “but only in Maine.”

To Davis, Maine stands apart from other states because “there is this culture that we can get it done on our own,” she said. “It’s a culture that we see here, but also in our veteran services organizations and congressional stakeholders.”

Davis was born in Mississippi, but has never called any place home for long.

“Home is where I am at the moment,” she said. “Maine has always felt the most homelike to me.”

“I was tickled pink when they said she was coming up here,” Lawyerson said. “The bottom line, she listens to us, we listen to her. It’s going to be a two-way street.”

VA Maine HCS is comprosed of one main campus in Augusta and community-based outpatient clinics in Bangor, Bingham, Calais, Fort Kent, Houlton, Lewiston, Lincoln, Portland, Rumford and Saco.

 


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