Federal auditors visit Durham VA Medical Center to check scheduling practices

mquillin@newsobserver.comMay 14, 2014 

Federal auditors were at the Durham VA Medical Center on Tuesday as part of a nationwide effort to see whether veterans hospitals and clinics across the country are following proper procedure to get patients seen on time.

The results of the audit won’t be known for several weeks, said Durham VA spokeswoman Shannon Mann.

Meanwhile, the VA this week placed two workers at the Durham hospital on paid administrative leave while the agency investigates claims that the employees violated VA policies in scheduling patient appointments between 2009 and 2012.

Mann said she could not elaborate on the allegations, which were made by another employee before federal auditors arrived. But she said the claims are not like those that have been made recently at VA facilities in Texas and Arizona in which clerks are said to have manipulated appointment schedules to hide the fact that patients were not being seen in a timely manner. The VA is investigating those claims.

The Veterans Health Administration’s goal is for patients to get to see medical staff for primary, specialty or mental-health care within 14 days of their “desired appointment dates.” In 2013, the VA said it met that goal for 93 percent of its patients in primary and specialty care, and for 95 percent of its mental-health care patients.

But the VA Office of Inspector General has said the agency lacks a reliable and accurate method of measuring how well it meets the 14-day goal. For instance, if a patient calls and asks for an appointment in a given a week but is told there are no appointments available until a month later – and the patient accepts that date – some hospital clerks might indicate the later date was the “desired” one.

An influx of veterans seeking care from the VA after serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has highlighted a range of problems within the nation’s largest health care system, from outdated and neglected buildings to overtaxed physicians and appointment schedules so overcrowded that veterans have died while waiting months for treatment. The VA has 150 medical centers, nearly 1,400 outpatient clinics and other facilities. The agency says it provides comprehensive care to more than 8.3 million veterans each year.

It has four medical centers in North Carolina: Durham, Fayetteville, Asheville and Salisbury.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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