In some ways, Michael Dunfee is like the new CEO of a thriving Hampton Roads corporation.
Last year, his business logged a 7 percent increase in customers walking through the door. Construction crews were busy expanding and modernizing the facility, situated on a sprawling campus near major transportation routes.
For 2013, he's expecting an increase in both workload and the scope of services offered.
The 39-year-old South Dakota native isn't a high-tech mogul or a risk-taking entrepreneur. He's not a giant military contractor, although that's getting closer.
Dunfee is the new director of the Hampton VA Medical Center, and he won't be lacking for things to do.
Situated in the heart of military-rich southeastern Virginia, the Hampton VA is the fourth-oldest medical center in the VA health care system with nearly 470 beds. It serves 15 counties in eastern Virginia and 10 counties in northeastern North Carolina. It operates outpatient clinics in Virginia Beach and Elizabeth City, N.C.
Last week, Dunfee took a break from his new duties to discuss the center's short-term future. He hopes to build on the 7-percent jump in patient workload.
"If we can see that (increase) or even a larger increase this year, it's really a sign of organizational health and a sign we're doing the things we need to do," he said.
Dunfee comes to Hampton from the nation's capitol, where he served as the associate director of the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center. He began his VA career in Wisconsin in 1998 and has held several positions in the Texas VA system.
Now he will oversee continued expansion at the historic Hampton site, which dates back to 1870 when it opened as the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and Sailors.
Over the past two years, the center has worked to expand services for women, having seen a 20 percent jump in female patients from fiscal year 2010 to 2012. At present, women make up about 23 percent of the patients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In November 2011, it opened a new mammography service. In September, it cut the ribbon on a stand-alone Women's Clinic.
This year, Hampton will continue to upgrade mental health services and a spinal cord injury unit. The operating room will be another focus.
"We want to grow the surgical program, bring in as many folks as we can that are currently going to other facilities in Richmond and elsewhere," he said.
He wants to increase the number of procedures currently done at the center as well as add new procedures, although details are still to be worked out.
The number of homeless veterans in the region will continue to be a challenge. The VA has set a goal of eliminating veteran homelessness, and the Hampton VA has received national recognition for participating in a program that puts deserving veterans in permanent housing by providing vouchers.
Dunfee said the VA must also look at ways to prevent homelessness, such as job counseling.
"We really want to focus on the entire picture," he said.
More broadly, Dunfee said he plans to concentrate on three general areas: patient or customer service, clinical operations, and streamlining procedures so doctors and nurses spend more time dealing with patients and less time on administrative matters.
A personal connection
Dunfee's grandfather died a couple of years ago, but those memories are part of what motivates him today.
His grandfather was a World War II veteran who landed on Omaha Beach two days after the D-Day invasion began. He fought across Europe and was severely wounded.
"That really defined him," Dunfee said. "Growing up with him, hearing him talk about his stories, defined for me the importance of veterans and the importance of service to our country."
Shortly after his grandfather died, the family came across a recorded phone interview he did as part of a Virginia Military Institute project to record the experiences of WWII veterans. It was like hearing his grandfather all over again.
"There is just a real connection to him and to understanding the importance of service that I feel every day walking into the medical center, knowing how proud he would be," he said.