Local News

Durham, Fayetteville VA hospitals respond to scathing audit

Posted June 10, 2014 7:36 p.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2014 5:10 p.m. EDT

— Durham VA Medical Center officials are challenging findings from a national audit of wait times for patients.

The audit found that Durham was second in the state for the highest number of days new patients wait for an appointment – 64 days – and the percentage of patients seen within two weeks – 95 percent.

When it comes to new mental health patients, the average wait time at the Durham VA is 104 days, according to the report, but the hospital disputes that finding.

“The Durham VA is not able to validate this data,” the hospital said in a statement. “According to a June 9 (national database report) covering fiscal year 2014 to date, more than 58 percent of new mental health patients were seen within 14 days and the overall average wait time for a new patient appointment was 25 days to the first visit.”

The Durham VA said it will review its numbers to see why they’re different from the report.

The nationwide audit was ordered after reports in April that veterans were dying while waiting for care in Phoenix. A preliminary federal review found that long patient waits and falsified records were common throughout VA hospitals nationwide.

In May, two Durham VA employees were placed on administrative leave for allegedly engaging in inappropriate scheduling practices.

Across the country, more than 57,000 veterans waited 90 days or more for their first VA appointment and an additional 64,000 never got an appointment after enrolling and requesting one, the report found.

VA patients are supposed to see a doctor or any other medical professional within 14 days of their requested date. Any wait longer than two weeks is supposed to be documented.

The audit found that the average wait time for new patients across North Carolina ranged from 29 days in Salisbury to 83 days in Fayetteville, the longest wait among VA hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia and the third longest wait time nationwide.

Space constraints, along with an increase in patients and responsibilities from the federal compensation and pension program, are why wait times at the Fayetteville VA are so long, the hospital said in a statement.

“We have kept our focus on providing safe, high-quality care and working with our veterans to provide them the care that they desire at a time that they want,” the hospital said. “We recognize that our access to care for our veteran patients is not at the goals that VA established, and we are working on many fronts to bring our quality care to more veterans.”

The Fayetteville facility is leasing additional space, recruiting extra staff and constructing new facilities, the hospital said.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will visit the facility on Thursday.

“We accept the reported data as a call to redouble our efforts, but we also want to point out something that’s lost in the discussion: the dedication, commitment and determination of our staff,” the hospital said. “Lest we forget, in spite of daunting challenges, they remain focused on our patients and work tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of the men and women who receive care here.“