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7 Washington VA hospitals flagged for wait times, other issues

pugetsoundvaSEATTLE — The Veterans Health Administration on Monday released preliminary results of a system-wide audit of VA facilities in Washington state, flagging  seven hospitals as needing further review.

Those include: VA Puget Sound Seattle, VA Puget Sound American Lake Division, Walla Walla VAMC, Spokane, Portland VAMC Vancouver, South Sound CBOC Chehalis, Wenatchee CBOC.

In addition, the audit found average wait times for patients at VA Puget Sound.  Only 5% of existing patients waited longer than 30 days to be seen, but new patients for primary care had an average wait time of 58 days.

In mid-April, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to complete a nation-wide Access Audit to ensure a full understanding of VA’s policy among scheduling staff, identify any inappropriate scheduling practices used by employees regarding Veteran preferences for appointment dates, and review waiting list management.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., issued a statement late Monday that read, in part, “Today’s report paints a serious and disturbing picture of the VA’s system-wide failure to provide timely access to care for our nation’s heroes. I am especially concerned by the number of facilities that serve Washington state veterans that have been flagged for further review and investigation. This information confirms what I have been hearing from so many veterans who are struggling with extended wait times in the Pacific Northwest.

“These are not new problems, but I hope today’s data will spur continued bipartisan momentum as we work to pass the Sanders-McCain compromise. Finalizing this legislation is a critical step toward addressing some of the immediate accountability and access concerns plaguing the VA,” she said.

On Wednesday, May 21, VA launched the Accelerating Access to Care Initiative, a nation-wide program to ensure timely access to care. As directed by President Obama, VHA has identified Veterans across the system experiencing waits that do not meet Veterans expectations for timeliness. VA has begun contacting and scheduling all Veterans who are waiting for care in VA clinics or arranging for care in the community, while simultaneously addressing the underlying issues that impede Veterans’ access

Audit Findings System-Wide Include:

- A complicated scheduling process resulted in confusion among scheduling clerks and front-line supervisors in a number of locations.

- A 14 day wait-time performance target for new appointments was not only inconsistently deployed throughout the health care system but was not attainable given growing demand for services and lack of planning for resource requirements.

- Overall, 13% of scheduling staff interviewed indicated they received instruction (from supervisors or others) to enter a date different from what the veteran had requested in the appointment scheduling system.

- 8% of scheduling staff indicated they used alternatives to the official Electronic Wait List (EWL). In some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable.

Such practices are widespread enough to require VA to re-examine its entire Performance Management system and, in particular, whether current measures and targets for access are realistic or sufficient.

We’ll have more on this story on Q13 FOX News at  5 p.m.

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