Today the VA Office of the Inspector General (VAOIG) released an interim report on its investigations into allegations of inappropriate scheduling practices and long patient wait times at the Phoenix VA.
Since 2005, the VAOIG has released eighteen reports identifying challenges with VA scheduling and appointments at both the national and regional level. In the last month, allegations emerged of questionable scheduling practices at the Phoenix VA, including secret patient wait lists, potentially leading to forty patient deaths. This initial report led to similar allegations of long wait times at VA hospitals across the country; currently the VAOIG is investigating forty-two VA medical facilities.
The findings of this interim report focuses specifically on the Phoenix VA. It sheds to light a VA system that needs an extensive review and overhaul to ensure that veterans are getting the care they need, when they need it.
The VAOIG interim report found that:
1. Inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout the Veterans Health Administration.
2. The majority of veterans waiting for a primary care appointment weren’t on the VA electronic wait list that puts them in line to receive an appointment (1,700 veterans that had requested appointments were not on the list compared to 1,400 veterans who were).
3. The Phoenix VA severely under-reported the average amount of time a veteran waited for a primary care appointment in FY13, reporting average wait times of 24 days compared to the 115 days estimated by the VAOIG report. The VAOIG also estimated that 84% of veterans waited over 14 days for a new primary care appointment, compared to the 43% estimated by the Phoenix VA.
4. Scheduling practices at the Phoenix VA are not compliant with VHA policies and procedures.
5. Uncovered numerous allegations of daily mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions sexual harassment and bulling by mid- and senior- level managers at the Phoenix VA.
The report did not offer any insight into whether these scheduling delays contributed to any delays in diagnosis or treatment, or lead to patient deaths. The VAOIG needs more time to conduct a review of all records before they can make a determination on these points. This interim report also only looks at primary care appointments and has not delved in to possible delays for specialty care appointments.
The report concludes with four recommendations for the VA Secretary, centering around reviewing the delays in care and ensuring that those waiting on access are provided care at the Phoenix VA and conducting a nationwide review of veterans on wait lists to ensure all waiting veterans are on the electronic wait list and receive timely access to care.