Sloan Gibson, the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, will visit the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta on Thursday to meet with hospital leadership, employees and key stakeholders to discuss efforts to improve local health care.
Gibson will answer media questions at 11:15 a.m. and is expected to address findings of a recent VA audit that found 26 new patients in Augusta have had to wait at least 90 days for an appointment and 133 more veterans have yet to be scheduled for an appointment despite requesting one in the past 10 years.
Though the audit’s latest findings show only two veterans are waiting more than 90 days and 45 have yet to be scheduled for their first consultation in a decade, Gibson said in a news release that more progress is needed.
“In many communities across the country, veterans wait too long for the high quality care they’ve earned and deserve,” he said.
In his statement, Gibson announced VA outreach has now contacted nearly 140,000 veterans nationwide to remove them from wait lists and place them into clinics for medical appointments.
At the Augusta VA, the average wait time is 27, 51 and 47 days for new primary, specialty and mental-health care patients, respectively. The wait times drop to three, four and fewer than one day in each of the fields for established patients, but getting to that point has in the past required dealing with referrals that can take months, even years, to get filled, hospital records show.
In 2011, three cancer patients died at the Augusta VA when more than 4,500 endoscopy requests were delayed. It is unknown if the problems have affected other programs.
The audit only measures every scheduled appointment at a facility except surgery and procedures. At Augusta, that’s 38,665 appointments, 91 percent of which are seen in fewer than 30 days.
To help increase that rate, the VA has flagged Augusta and 111 other facilities for “further review” and vowed to continue to provide regular data updates to enhance transparency and inform the public on improvements it’s making to veteran health care.
“We are fully committed to fixing the problems we face in order to better serve veterans,” Gibson said in the release. “We must restore the public’s trust in VA, but more importantly, we must restore the trust of our veterans who depend on us for care.”