Federal money to help Fayetteville VA hospital address wait times
Posted June 12, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The Fayetteville VA Medical Center, which was shown in a recent audit to have one of the longest wait times for veterans seeking care, will receive $7.4 million in federal money to address the issue, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson said Thursday during a visit to the hospital.
The VA released the results of an internal audit this week that showed patients at the Fayetteville center wait an average of 29 days for a primary care appointment. New patients wait 83 days, the third-longest waiting time in the country and nearly six times longer than the VA's goal of scheduling patient appointments within 14 days.
Gibson called those delays unacceptable and ordered the hospital to hire temporary staff to deal with the backlog. The hospital already is expanding it hours and adding a mobile unit to see patients.
The federal funding will help divert some veterans to nearby medical clinics by paying for more contract care, he said.
The biggest challenges facing the Fayetteville VA hospital is lack of space and a growing number of patients, Gibson said.
"Their veteran population they're caring for here is growing at one of the fastest rates of any VA medical center across the country," he said.
Gibson said the Fayetteville VA staff has contacted 2,000 vets who have been waiting 30 days or more for medical care, but they still have to talk to another 200 on the waiting list.
Vietnam veteran James McLeod, who has been coming to the Fayetteville VA hospital for 15 years, often has waited days and weeks to see a doctor and said he's not confident that much will change.
"This is another whitewash," McLeod said. "Everybody that puts a suit on comes in here then goes back and tells everyone, 'We've got it fixed.' You don’t have anything fixed because you haven’t talked to the veterans and the people who have the problems."
While admitting there are systemic problems, Gibson said the vast majority of the employees at the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs are not the problem. He recounted changes the agency is making to address the issue as he defended VA employees, whom he described as working harder for less pay than similarly qualified professionals in the private sector.
"The fact of the matter is, we have 341,000 people, and the vast majority of them work really hard to do the right thing, and that's why we have veterans who are well served the vast majority of the time," he said. "Do we have we have problems? Yes, we do, and I own them. ... My commitment is that we’ll deal with those problems."
Issues such as falsified wait lists found at some VA hospitals will be dealt with and won't happen again, he said.
"Willful misconduct will not be tolerated," he said.
The VA also is eliminating bonuses for senior executives and is establishing a new patient-satisfaction measurement program to provide real-time information on each VA hospital and clinic, Gibson said.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who asked Gibson to visit the Fayetteville facility, said she appreciates the steps he announced too address wait times but added "much work remains to be done to restore the faith of our veterans."