Face of InnoVAtion is a regular series from the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) focusing on VA employees who are working to change and save Veteran lives through innovation. This month, meet David Dunning, executive director for the James A. Haley VA Hospital and clinics in Tampa, Florida.

Dunning served in the Army for 30 years. Afterward, he believed he was not done serving our nation and those who protect it. Driven by this patriotism and his Memphis roots, Dunning entered civilian service in May 2017. He was the medical center director for the VA Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee.

Under his leadership and in close partnership with the VHA Innovation Ecosystem, Memphis VA has blossomed into a hub for innovation, achieving the status of a VHA Innovators Network (iNET) site in 2019.

“Allows us to identify talent from within.”

“My favorite thing about working at VA is getting to work with leaders in the field of innovation,” Dunning said. “People who can envision a new reality and inspire you to do the same. Additionally, the VHA Innovation Ecosystem allows us to identify talent from within using the VHA Innovation Fellowship Program.”

David Dunning, executive director, Tampa VA

One of Memphis VA’s employees, Dr. Indra Sandal served as Entrepreneur in Residence – VHA IE Fellow of 2021. Sandal’s VHA Uber Health Connect Initiative addresses the transportation barrier to health care access within Veterans Integrated Services Networks and the enterprise at large.

Dunning is proud to be part of an organizational program that affords him the opportunity to recognize incredible employee innovators within his medical center, such as Sandal.

“Most people see VA and people at VA as the stereotypical government bureaucracy,” Dunning said. “While in some cases this is true, in the innovation arena it is not. The VHA Innovation Ecosystem with its numerous programs – like iNET, Shark Tank, and ADAPT – actually encourages innovation and provides a creative space not found many other places.”

Solutions that improve patient outcomes

Notably, the Memphis VA team collaborated with the VA Innovation Ecosystem as well as faculty from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston and Salt Lake City, to launch the MIT Catalyst Program. This consortium recruited three fellows and site leaders to represent Memphis VA in developing solutions that improve patient outcomes.

They did this by addressing high-priority issues, like access, technology in health management, COVID-19 preparedness, and diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

As an iNET site, Memphis employee innovators shine, exploring topics like  women’s health, geriatrics, suicide prevention, virtual health and COVID-19 preparedness. Memphis VA had two Diffusion of Excellence promising practices: “Telelactation Program” and “Beta Lactam Allergy Assessment” in the 2020 VHA Shark Tank Competition.

Dunning spearheaded suicide prevention videos

Dunning also personally spearheaded his own innovation idea to develop and produce 10 videos for Suicide Prevention in September 2018. Each video highlighted a critical program to combat suicide. The videos reached more than 30,000 Veterans on social media and garnered more than 150,000 views through a story on a local news station.

As of Nov. 7, 2021, Dunning has moved on to serve as the executive director of the James A. Haley VA Hospital and clinics in Tampa, Florida.

Thank you employee innovators and innovation leaders throughout VA. The Face of InnoVAtion campaign is coming to a close. VHA IE will kick off a new monthly series in 2022. It will feature the disruptors and revolutionary innovators within our health care system.

By Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and communications lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem

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Published on Dec. 27, 2021

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