The Charlie Norwood Veteran Affairs Medical Center is one of 112 VA facilities nationwide that require “further review” after a federal audit released Monday found 134 patients who have enrolled at the Augusta hospital in the past 10 years have never had appointments.
Overall, 15 percent of the 731 hospitals and outpatient clinics visited in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Access Audit need additional inspection based on answers provided by front-line staff to questions related to scheduling and management practices, according to the audit.
Ten of the sites are located in the VA’s Southeast Network. That includes the Augusta VA, which auditors visited May 14 to find three patients still waiting for initial medical appointments 90 days or more after requesting them, the report stated.
No specific details were provided on further review. Hospital spokesman Pete Scovill did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
“It is our duty and privilege to provide veterans the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice,” Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said in releasing the audit’s findings. “As the President has said, as Secretary Shinseki said, and as I stated plainly last week, we must work together to fix the unacceptable, systemic problems in accessing VA healthcare.”
Delays in care are not new to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.
Between 2011 and 2012, three cancer patients died after 4,580 veterans had diagnostic, screening and surveillance endoscopies delayed because of management failing to schedule primary-care referrals in the hospital’s gastrointestinal program.
The latest audit shows the Augusta VA has 39,116 non-surgical appointments in its system and that 98 percent, or 38,313, are scheduled within the next 30 days. Of those scheduled longer than a month, 531 are for 31 to 60 days; 120 are for 61 to 90 days; 66 are for 91 to 120 days; and 86 are for beyond 120 days.
The audit stated the agency’s “complicated” appointment process created confusion among scheduling clerks and front-line supervisors, and that a 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was “simply not attainable” given the ongoing challenge to accommodate growing health care demands among veterans. The VA has since abandoned that goal.
The audit says 13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter and that at least one instance of such practices was identified in 76 percent of VA facilities.
Full details made public within the VA follow Gibson’s commitment last week in Phoenix, Ariz. and San Antonio, Texas to provide timely access to quality healthcare veterans have earned and deserved.
As of Monday, Gibson said the VA has contacted 50,000 veterans nationwide to get them off of wait lists and into clinics and will continue to reach out until all veterans receive the care they’ve earned.
“I’ll repeat – this data shows the extent of the systemic problems we face, problems that demand immediate actions,” Gibson said.