News : Augusta VA Wait Times Increase After Early Improvements Under New Director
Augusta, GA, USA, July 20 ,2015 -- Despite hiring more staff and revamping the patient call center at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center, average wait times have steadily increased during Maria Andrews’ first 150 days as the hospital’s new director.
According to patient access data updated monthly on the VA’s Web site, Andrews’ administration got off to a strong start in February, achieving the medical center’s lowest wait times since former Director Bob Hamilton resigned Nov. 30.
During her first month, records show, Andrews’ staff saw primary care patients in an average of 3.76 days, specialty patients in 4.63 and mental health care patients in 1.6. Since then, wait times have increased to 6.52, 5.34 and 1.72 days for those patients as of May 31, the latest date for which data is available.
The VA posted those figures July 2, the same day Andrews fired back at media reports that veterans have problems accessing care at the Augusta VA during an open house to promote the VA’s "Summer of Service" initiative.
At the event, Andrews said average wait times for primary, specialty and mental health care were 5.06, 4.50 and 1.51 days. However, she did not provide a precise timeframe for the data.
Neither did Brian Rothwell, the hospital’s acting public affairs officer, on Monday.
"The VA uses various sets of data to track performance for wait time," Rothwell said in an e-mail. "The data Ms. Andrews quoted at the open house was the most current data based on completed appointments. You will note that all wait times have been consistently below the goal of 30 days or less."
Though the Augusta VA has completed more appointments per month since Andrews’ arrival in February, some veterans say system breakdowns still persist.
Brian Green, 52, said he was floored when he read reports that Andrews commented during the open house that "the VA does a fabulous job with access" and that Augusta’s 2,445 employees "are totally dedicated to providing exceptional health care."
The Marine veteran, who served 10 years as an explosives instructor, said he has waited more than two months for the Augusta VA to confirm whether he can stay at its uptown hospital to recover from surgery he plans to have on his right eye.
Green said an outside provider told him he could do the surgery but that Green would need to stay at the VA for three days while he regained sight.
"There has been no follow-up whatsoever since I met with the director at the downtown VA to get this procedure
set," Green said last week.
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After The Augusta Chronicle asked about Green’s case, Rothwell said Monday that the hospital "has initiated contact with the veteran to resolve his particular concern."
Green confirmed that he received a call Monday morning from a patient advocate to finalize his request, but he said his struggles show the Augusta VA still has a "track record of systemic problems."
Green said that in March 2014 he went to the Augusta VA’s emergency room twice in three weeks after his vision became foggy in his left eye.
He said a consultation was not scheduled and an operation was not contracted to an outside provider until May to repair a detached retina. He said that after a follow-up procedure he had a month later, the Augusta VA immediately released him to recover in a hotel while still under anesthetics.
Green said Monday that he still holds out hope Andrews can improve wait times.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center:
The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center is a Veterans Administration hospital in Augusta, Georgia (United States).
About Department Of Veterans Affairs:
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a government-run military veteran benefit system with Cabinet-level status. It is the United States government’s second largest department, after the United States Department of Defense. With a total 2009 budget of about $87.6 billion, VA employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices and is responsible for administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors. In 2012, the proposed budget for Veterans Affairs was $132 billion. The VA 2014 Budget request for 2014 is $152.7 billion. This includes $66.5 billion in discretionary resources and $86.1 billion in mandatory funding. The discretionary budget request represents an increase of $2.7 billion, or 4.3 percent, over the 2013 enacted level.
Published: Tuesday, July 21, 2015
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