By Alex Kline
IOWA CITY– Walking through the Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Iowa City can be intimidating to say the least. Even on Christmas Eve, the hallways of the VA are full of patients and staff bustling in and out of exam rooms. Among the many faces, one is familiar, and he will say “hello” to everyone.
This friendly face is that of Iowa City Veteran Affairs hospital medical director and self-proclaimed “Solon-oid,” Barry Sharp. He will be retiring from the position in January after seven years at the Iowa City campus.
“I think that the VA has the highest calling in the federal government, and that’s serving America’s veterans,” said Sharp. “They deserve our respect, and they deserve the benefits they’ve earned. So we should make it a positive experience for them.”
One patient who said he is receiving radiation treatment is handing out cupcakes to staff and stopped Sharp to ask if he was the director.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” the man said. “You guys saved my life.”
After a 25-year career, Sharp has seen a lot of positive changes in various VA hospitals around the country and is excited to retire.
“Since I’ve come into the VA system, the biggest change is how care is delivered,” said Sharp. “The majority of our primary care and some specialty care is delivered in community-based clinics with the goal being getting the care closer to the veteran.”
During his time at the Iowa City VA, four of the nine Iowa community-based clinics that help veterans in rural Iowa were built.
“It’s a lot of space to cover,” Sharp said. The VA has an enrolled population of 45,000 veterans.
“The expectation is much higher on the veteran patients themselves, meaning you need to be a part of your care plan,” he said. “The best patient that any provider can have is one that is well educated on what their health issues are.”
In addition to expanding primary care beyond Iowa City, Sharp has overseen almost $300 million worth of infrastructure renovations at the Iowa City campus.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of capital improvement,” he said. Such improvements include the abandonment of multi-patient rooms for private, individual rooms, construction of a women’s clinic, and a soon-to-come parking lot.
“The number one complaint, not even a close second… parking,” said Sharp. “A parking ramp is maybe not as high profile as say a direct clinical care area, but it has a direct impact on the care we deliver because veterans come in here and their looking for a parking spot can be very stressful. It’s a big, big, big deal.”
The groundbreaking for the new ramp will take place in March, and will be finished in one year. The ramp will hold 400 parking spaces, which according to Sharp, is not enough to house the employees of the hospital.
“Without sounding too greedy, I’d really like another parking ramp,” he said. “Given the opportunity I would build a second parking ramp tomorrow.”
Though his position hasn’t been filled, Sharp said he is excited to see what changes a new director will bring.
“Change is a good thing,” he said.
When asked what advice he would give to the new director, he said that his own brand of leadership has suited him well over the years.
“You have to empower people. You are accountable for everything, but you can’t possibly know everything so you have to rely on other people to get that job done,” he said. “You really have to set the future of where the organization is going.”
After Jan. 31, Sharp said he plans to take a few months off to visit some family and friends that are out of town and attend a summer intensive at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Montana.
“I’ve always enjoyed photography,” said Sharp whose favorite photo opportunities are at live performances.