Georgia VA clinic wait times criticized

ATLANTA --- Several mental health clinics serving Georgia veterans had significantly high patient wait times over the past fiscal year and were slow to respond to the problem, according to a federal report issued Tuesday.


Investigators from the Department of Veterans Affairs wrote that some patients on electronic waiting lists were hospitalized or taken to the emergency room after suicide attempts. However, the agency stopped short of weighing in on whether those veterans tried to harm themselves because they were waitlisted.

The report by the VA Inspector General's Office of Healthcare Inspections was prompted by a January 2010 complaint about inadequate management of the electronic waiting list for the clinics, which are part of the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

The agency also found that fiscal year 2010 funds were inappropriately used to pay a contractor's expenses for the previous fiscal year. It recommended the facility take actions to prevent such situations from occurring again.

A spokesman with the Atlanta VA Medical Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report.

The agency notes that the facility has since provided resources to address the concerns raised, and that its report refers only to initial clinic evaluations and didn't measure ongoing care.

According to VA guidelines, patients on the electronic wait list "must receive an initial evaluation within 24 hours, and a more comprehensive diagnostic and treatment planning evaluation within 14 days."

The confidential complaint alleged that a high number of patients were on various mental health clinic electronic waiting lists and that facility management were aware of a potential risk to patients but took no actions to resolve the issue.

The Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur serves about 453,000 veterans in 48 counties.