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    Subject Term: "Veterans medical care"

    7 publications with a total of 27 open recommendations including 11 priority recommendations
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure VHA medical examiners are prepared to conduct the Gulf War general medical exam, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to require medical examiners to complete training, such as the 90-minute Gulf War Illness web-based course, before conducting these exams.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans to address it. Specifically, VA said it plans to make its 90-minute web-based training course mandatory for its medical examiners who conduct Gulf War Illness exams.
    Recommendation: To provide more complete information to veterans whose Gulf War Illness claims are denied, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to update guidance to require that decision letters indicate whether Gulf War Illness medical issues were evaluated under both a presumptive and direct service connection method.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans in place to address it. Specifically, VA noted it would improve how it communicates decisions to veterans and is in the process of updating its guidance to the regional offices to clarify the language required for its Gulf War Illness decision letters.
    Recommendation: To increase the likelihood of making progress toward developing a single case definition of Gulf War Illness, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to prepare and document a plan to develop a single case definition of Gulf War Illness. This plan should include near- and long-term specific actions, such as analyzing and leveraging information in existing datasets and identifying any areas for future research to help VA achieve this goal.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed this recommendation and stated it has plans to address it. Specifically, VA noted it would convene a group of subject matter experts to work on a plan - as described in our report - to establish a single case definition of Gulf War Illness.
    Director: Robert Goldenkoff
    Phone: (202) 512-2757

    12 open recommendations
    including 5 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve the capacity of HR functions at VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should instruct the Under Secretary for Health to assign the following responsibility to the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Workforce Service: develop a comprehensive competency assessment tool for HR staff that evaluates knowledge of all three personnel systems, (Title 5, Title 38 and Title 38-Hybrid).

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: We will provide updated information once we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve the capacity of HR functions at VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should instruct the Under Secretary for Health to assign the following responsibility to the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Workforce Service: ensure that all VHA HR staff complete the competency assessment tool and use this data to identify and address competency gaps within HR offices.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve the capacity of HR functions at VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should instruct the Under Secretary for Health to assign the following responsibility to the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Workforce Service: evaluate the extent to which training strategies are effective for improving the skills and competencies of HR staff.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: We will provide updated information once we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve the capacity of HR functions at VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should instruct the Under Secretary for Health to establish clear lines of authority that provide the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Workforce Service the ability to oversee and hold medical center HR offices accountable for implementing initiatives to improve HR processes within HR offices as well as monitoring and reporting on the results of these initiatives.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VA agreed with our recommendation and stated that it plans to address this recommendation through an organizational realignment. As a first step, in March 2017, the Acting Under Secretary for Health issued a memo to VHA Deputy Under Secretaries, Network Directors, and Medical Center Directors stating that these officials are accountable for ensuring efficient and effective human capital service delivery. To fully implement the recommendation to hold medical center HR offices accountable, VA needs to establish procedures for monitoring and reporting on the results of its HR improvement initiatives.
    Recommendation: To improve the capacity of HR functions at VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should instruct the Under Secretary for Health to establish clear lines of authority that provide the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Workforce Service the ability to oversee and hold medical center HR offices accountable for requiring all HR staff to complete the competency assessment tool within HR offices.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VA agreed with our recommendation and stated that it was taking steps to address it. As a first step, in March 2017, the Acting Under Secretary for Health issued a memo stating that the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Workforce Services (ADUSHWFS) is authorized to establish HR competencies for VHA HR staff, and also require VHA HR staff to complete HR competency assessments and training. Further, the memo requires the ADUSHWFS to report quarterly to the DUSHOM on the status of HR competency assessments and training completion. In late April 2017, VA officials stated that they are establishing processes to collect and monitor data on completion rates for the HR staff competency assessment tool. To fully implement the recommendation, VA should implement these processes and provide quarterly data on competency tool completion rates to the DUSHOM.
    Recommendation: To ensure VA medical centers make needed improvements to HR functions, such as those identified by VA's Office of Oversight and Effectiveness and VHA's Consult, Assist, Review, Develop, and Sustain (CARDS) reviews, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should provide the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration (HR&A) and the Under Secretary for Health with the oversight responsibility of effectively monitoring the status of corrective actions at medical center HR offices and ensuring that corrective actions are implemented.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: We will provide updated information once we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure that positions across all VHA medical facilities are placed in the appropriate class and grade, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for HR&A and the Under Secretary for Health to clarify their lines of authority and processes for overseeing and holding Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISNs) and VHA medical facilities accountable for the consistent application of federal classification policies.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: We will provide updated information once we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To accelerate efforts to develop a modern, credible, and effective performance management system the Assistant Secretary for HR&A should, with input from VHA stakeholders, ensure that meaningful distinctions are being made in employee performance ratings by (1) developing and implementing a standardized, comprehensive performance management training program for supervisors of Title 5, Title 38, and Title 38-Hybrid employees based on leading practices and ensuring procedures are in place to support effective performance conversations between supervisors and employees; (2) reviewing and revising Title 5 and Title 38 performance management policies consistent with leading practices (e.g., require definition of all performance levels); and (3) developing and implementing a process to standardize performance plan elements, standards, and metrics for common positions across VHA that are covered under VA's Title 5 performance management system.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs: Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VA partially agreed with our recommendation and described the preliminary steps it is planning to take to identify and implement a modern, credible, and effective performance management system. In late April 2017, VA officials stated that they are in the early stages of identifying a way forward for a revised performance management system, and are considering different options. To implement our recommendation, VA must ensure that meaningful distinctions are being made in employee performance ratings. This includes reviewing and revising Title 5 and Title 38 performance management policies consistent with leading practices (e.g., requiring definition of all performance levels), and developing and implementing a process to standardize performance plan elements, standards, and metrics for all common Title 5 positions across VHA. We recognize that identifying and implementing a new performance management system will require significant effort on VA's part, and will continue to monitor its actions and progress in this area.
    Recommendation: To accelerate efforts to develop a modern, credible, and effective performance management system, the Assistant Secretary for HR&A should, with input from VHA stakeholders, ensure that ratings-based performance awards are administered in a manner that is consistent with leading practices and promotes improved employee performance.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs: Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VA partially agreed with our recommendation and stated that it will explore how to create effective incentive and reward systems. VA also noted that due to constrained funding for such systems, it will pursue ways to maximize effective use of both monetary and non-monetary awards to promote employee performance. In late April 2017, VA officials stated that they are in the early stages of identifying a way forward for a revised performance management system (including ratings-based awards), and are considering different options. To implement our recommendation, VA must ensure that its award programs are administered in a valid, reliable, and transparent manner. We recognize that identifying and implementing a new performance management system will require significant effort on VA?s part, and will continue to monitor its actions and progress in this area.
    Recommendation: To accelerate efforts to develop a modern, credible, and effective performance management system, the Assistant Secretary for HR&A should, with input from VHA stakeholders, develop a plan for how and when it intends to implement a modern information technology (IT) system to support employee performance management processes.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs: Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VA partially agreed with this recommendation and stated that it continues to pilot its performance appraisal IT system -- known as the ePerformance system -- but that broad implementation of new technology for performance management will require adequate IT funding. In late April 2017, VA officials stated that they are exploring other potential IT systems to support the performance management process. To implement our recommendation, VA must develop a plan for how and when it intends to implement a modern performance management IT system.
    Recommendation: To better monitor and improve employee engagement, the Under Secretary for Health should establish clear and effective lines of authority and accountability for developing, implementing, and monitoring strategies for improving employee engagement across VHA, such as by establishing an employee engagement office at the VHA headquarters level with appropriate oversight of VISNs and medical center initiatives.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs: Office of the Under Secretary for Health
    Status: Open

    Comments: We will provide updated information once we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To better monitor and improve employee engagement, the Under Secretary for Health should ensure that VHA and VISN entities jointly develop (1) a system to facilitate sharing of employee engagement leading practices/lessons learned; and (2) a strategy to help address barriers to improving engagement, particularly for those medical centers with the lowest engagement scores.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs: Office of the Under Secretary for Health
    Status: Open

    Comments: We will provide updated information once we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.
    Director: Randall B. Williamson
    Phone: (202) 512-7114

    2 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve care for women veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to strengthen the environment of care inspections process and VHA's oversight of this process by expanding the list of requirements that facility staff inspect for compliance to align with VHA's women's health handbook, ensuring that all patient care areas of the medical facility are inspected as required, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of VA medical facility staff responsible for identifying and addressing compliance, and establishing a process to verify that noncompliance information reported by facilities to VHA Central Office is accurate and complete.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of June 2017, VA has taken some actions to address this recommendation, but additional actions are needed to fully implement it. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information from VA.
    Recommendation: To improve care for women veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to monitor women veterans' access to key sex-specific care services--mammography, maternity care, and gynecology--under current and future community care contracts. For those key services, monitoring should include an examination of appointment scheduling and completion times, driving times to appointments, and reasons appointments could not be scheduled with community providers.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of June 2017, VHA still lacks data and performance measures for the availability under Choice of sex-specific care, such as mammograms, maternity care, or gynecology. In contrast, for another VA care in the community program, PC3 (a program that the Choice third party administrators also administer) VHA collects data and has performance measures to evaluate women veterans' access to mammography and maternity care. To fully implement this recommendation, VHA needs to extend the collection of data to include care delivered through the Choice Program and other community care programs and establish related performance measures.
    Director: Debra Draper
    Phone: (202) 512-7114

    3 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure the effective recruitment and retention of nurses across VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to develop a periodic reporting process to help monitor VA medical center compliance with the policies and procedures for each of its key recruitment and retention initiatives.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VHA convened a taskforce with accompanying charter to address all three of GAO's recommendations, including medical center compliance with policies and procedures for the key recruitment and retention initiatives. The taskforce consists of workgroups that are charged with reviewing current processes for reporting on compliance for the eight recruitment and retention initiatives we identified in our report, identifying opportunities for improvement, and developing recommendations to optimize medical centers' reporting on compliance. Based on the workgroup recommendations, VHA will generate and implement program-specific approaches for reporting on compliance of the initiatives. As of March 2017, the workgroups have reviewed, or are in the process of reviewing, compliance reporting processes for all eight initiatives. VHA anticipates implementing compliance reporting processes by October 2017.
    Recommendation: To help ensure the effective recruitment and retention of nurses across VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to evaluate the adequacy of training resources provided to all nurse recruiters at VA medical centers to ensure that they have the tools and information to perform their duties efficiently and effectively.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VHA convened a taskforce with accompanying charter to address all three recommendations, including evaluating training resources provided to nurse recruiters. VHA stated that it held nurse recruiter training in April 2016 to address immediate training needs and incorporated survey results and recommendations from the field on the training at an August 2016 curriculum redesign meeting. VHA's next national nurse recruiter training sessions are to be held in April and November 2017, as well as four additional intermittent training sessions. In October 2016, VHA stated that it had established a national nurse recruitment division that will focus on national oversight, guidance, training, monitoring of nursing workforce and recruitment matters but did not provide an anticipated date for when it would be able to staff and stand up the new division. VHA noted that it will pursue an external study examining the effectiveness of the role of the nurse recruiter in VHA and a comparison of the effectiveness of nurse recruiters assigned to nurses offices versus those assigned to human resources offices. However, VHA did not provide any information on when it plans to pursue or complete such an evaluation. VHA also noted that the taskforce is exploring improved data collection tools and methods to routinely evaluate the adequacy and effectiveness of training resources provided to nurse recruiters at VA medical centers.
    Recommendation: To help ensure the effective recruitment and retention of nurses across VA medical centers, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to conduct a system-wide evaluation of VHA's key nurse recruitment and retention initiatives, to determine the overall effectiveness of these initiatives, including any needed improvements, and communicate results and information in a timely manner to relevant stakeholders.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VHA convened a taskforce with accompanying charter to address all three of GAO's recommendations, including conducting a system-wide evaluation of VHA's key nurse recruitment and retention initiatives and identifying areas for improvement. The taskforce consists of workgroups that are charged with reviewing current processes for reporting on compliance for the eight recruitment and retention initiatives we identified in our report, identifying opportunities for improvement, and developing recommendations to optimize medical centers' reporting on compliance. Based on the workgroup recommendations, VHA will generate and implement program-specific approaches for reporting on compliance of the initiatives. As of March 2017, taskforce has evaluated, or is in the process of evaluating, the effectiveness of each of the eight initiatives. VHA anticipates completing these evaluations by October 2017. However, VHA did not provide any information on its efforts to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the key initiatives in meeting VHA's system-wide nurse recruitment and retention goals.
    Director: Randall Williamson
    Phone: (202) 512-7114

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve VA's ability to address its strategic plan objective of educating and empowering veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to take steps to better understand gaps in veterans' knowledge regarding eligibility for Millennium Act emergency care, such as by conducting veteran surveys of health care benefits knowledge, and using information from those surveys to more effectively tailor the agency's education efforts regarding the Millennium Act benefit. In conducting these surveys, consideration should be given to including a sample of veterans who have had denied Millennium Act claims in order to provide their views and specific details of their experiences.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of September 2016, VA has taken some actions to address this recommendation, but additional actions are needed to fully implement it. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information from VA.
    Director: Williamson, Randall B
    Phone: (202) 512-7114

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To effectively manage fee basis care spending, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should revise the beneficiary travel eligibility regulations to allow for the reimbursement of travel expenses for veterans to another VAMC to receive needed medical care when it is more cost-effective and appropriate for the veteran than seeking similar care from a fee basis provider.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of September 2015, VA has taken some actions to address this recommendation, but additional actions are needed to fully implement it. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information from VA.
    Recommendation: To effectively manage fee basis care wait times and spending, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to analyze the amount of time veterans wait to see fee basis providers and apply the same wait time goals to fee basis care that are used as VAMC-based wait time performance measures.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In October 2014, VHA established a new wait-time goal, which is that veterans should be seen within 30 days of the date that an appointment is deemed clinically appropriate by a VA health care provider, or if no such clinical determination has been made, the date a veteran prefers to be seen for hospital care or medical services. While VHA has been monitoring the timeliness of VHA-based care according to this standard, it has not been applying the same standard to community-based care, including care delivered through the Veterans Choice Program. Therefore, VHA cannot determine whether veterans are receiving care in the community sooner or later than they otherwise would receive care at VA medical facilities. To fully implement this recommendation, VHA needs to take steps to ensure that its wait-time policies and procedures for both VHA-based care and community-based care (fee basis care) are aligned.
    Recommendation: To ensure that VA Central Office effectively monitors fee basis care, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Health to ensure that fee basis data include a claim number that will allow for VA Central Office to analyze the episode of care costs for fee basis care.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of September 2015, VA has taken some actions to address this recommendation, but additional actions are needed to fully implement it. We will update the status of this recommendation when we receive additional information from VA.
    Director: Williamson, Randall B
    Phone: (206)287-4860

    3 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that servicemembers have equitable access to the military services' wounded warrior programs, including the RCP, and to establish central accountability for these programs, the Secretary of Defense should establish or designate an office to centrally oversee and monitor the activities of the military services' wounded warrior programs to include the following: (1) Develop consistent eligibility criteria to ensure that similarly situated recovering servicemembers from different military services have uniform access to these programs; (2) Direct the military services' wounded warrior programs to fully comply with the policies governing care coordination and case management programs and any future changes to these policies; (3) Develop a common mechanism to systematically monitor the performance of the wounded warrior programs--to include the establishment of common terms and definitions--and report this information on a biannual basis to the Armed Services Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD did not concur with our part (1) of our recommendation to develop consistent eligibility criteria, explaining that the three military department secretaries should have the ability to control entrance criteria into their wounded warrior programs and that varying eligibility criteria have not resulted in noticeable differences in access to these programs by recovering servicemembers or their families. In attachments to a memo dated April 8, 2014, DOD provided an update on progress made to implement parts (2) and (3) of the DOD-specific recommendation made in GAO-13-5. Regarding part (2), DOD reported that budget constraints had delayed its plan to conduct oversight visits to 63 service sites over a 12-month period to ensure that military wounded warrior programs were operating in compliance with DOD Recovery Coordinator Program policy. DOD stated that the Warrior Care Policy office, in coordination with the military service branches, had intended to begin these oversight visits and interviews in September 2013; that as of March 2014, five sites had been reviewed; and that results of the compliance visits would be available upon completion. Regarding part (3) of the recommendation, DOD's memo stated that DOD and VA continue work on developing policies on clinical and non-clinical care coordination. It also noted that interagency metrics for monitoring complex care coordination performance were under development by the DOD/VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee. Further, DOD stated that because the Joint Executive Council publishes an annual report, that reporting the progress in developing common terms and definitions used by wounded warrior programs to congressional committees would be of limited value. As of October 2016, when we determine what additional steps the agency has taken to implement this recommendation, we will update this information.
    Recommendation: To ensure that persistent challenges with care coordination, disability evaluation, and the electronic sharing of health records are fully resolved, the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs should ensure that these issues receive sustained leadership attention and collaboration at the highest levels with a singular focus on what is best for the individual servicemember or veteran to ensure continuity of care and a seamless transition from DOD to VA. This should include holding the Joint Executive Council accountable for (1) ensuring that key issues affecting recovering servicemembers and veterans get sufficient consideration, including recommendations made by the Warrior Care and Coordination Task Force and the Recovering Warrior Task Force; (2) developing mechanisms for making joint policy decisions; (3) involving the appropriate decision-makers for timely implementation of policy; and; (4) establishing mechanisms to systematically oversee joint initiatives and ensure that outcomes and goals are identified and achieved.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of October 2016, under the joint DOD/VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee, the departments have made progress to improve nonclinical care coordination procedures, primarily through the development of two initiatives?the Lead Coordinator initiative (in which a single care coordinator serves as the primary point of contact for a recovering servicemember) and through the use of a single, interagency care plan (ICP) for each recovering servicemember. As of March 2016, the departments were continuing the national rollout of the Lead Coordinator initiative and had trained nearly 3,700 DOD and VA personnel on the new process. In addition, DOD and VA continued the development of the ICP initiative, which will depend upon their ability to electronically exchange the information needed to implement servicemembers' care plans. In December 2015, DOD awarded a contract to support the ICP and to create electronic interoperability with VA. The departments anticipate testing their ability to exchange information digitally in June 2016 and achieving full operational capability by September 2016. We will continue to monitor progress to implement the joint Lead Coordinator and the ICP care coordination initiatives.
    Recommendation: To ensure that persistent challenges with care coordination, disability evaluation, and the electronic sharing of health records are fully resolved, the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs should ensure that these issues receive sustained leadership attention and collaboration at the highest levels with a singular focus on what is best for the individual servicemember or veteran to ensure continuity of care and a seamless transition from DOD to VA. This should include holding the Joint Executive Council accountable for (1) ensuring that key issues affecting recovering servicemembers and veterans get sufficient consideration, including recommendations made by the Warrior Care and Coordination Task Force and the Recovering Warrior Task Force; (2) developing mechanisms for making joint policy decisions; (3) involving the appropriate decision-makers for timely implementation of policy; and; (4) establishing mechanisms to systematically oversee joint initiatives and ensure that outcomes and goals are identified and achieved.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of October 2016, under the joint DOD/VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee, the departments have made progress to improve nonclinical care coordination procedures, primarily through the development of two initiatives?the Lead Coordinator initiative (in which a single care coordinator serves as the primary point of contact for a recovering servicemember) and through the use of a single, interagency care plan (ICP) for each recovering servicemember. As of March 2016, the departments were continuing the national rollout of the Lead Coordinator initiative and had trained nearly 3,700 DOD and VA personnel on the new process. In addition, DOD and VA continued the development of the ICP initiative, which will depend upon their ability to electronically exchange the information needed to implement servicemembers' care plans. In December 2015, DOD awarded a contract to support the ICP and to create electronic interoperability with VA. The departments anticipate testing their ability to exchange information digitally in June 2016 and achieving full operational capability by September 2016. We will continue to monitor progress to implement the joint Lead Coordinator and the ICP care coordination initiatives.