Pinellas News

Audit flags Pinellas VA health center for review

TAMPA — The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center is one of eight facilities in the region requiring further review as the result of a nationwide audit of Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers.

The Young center, which used to be called Bay Pines VA Medical Center, was identified in an audit released by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday.

The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital was not one of the eight centers flagged in the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, also known as VISN 8 — Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The report does not say why the Young center, or any of the others, was identified for further review. However, systemwide, auditors found a host of concerns:

♦ A complicated scheduling process resulted in confusion among scheduling clerks and front-line supervisors.

♦ A 14-day wait-time performance target for new appointments was not only inconsistently deployed but was not attainable given growing demand and lack of planning.

♦  13 percent of scheduling staff interviewed indicated they received instruction from supervisors or others to enter a date different than what the veteran had requested in the appointment scheduling system.

♦  8 percent of scheduling staff said they used alternatives to the official Electronic Wait List.

♦  In some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to use unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices to make wait times seem shorter, according to the report.

“Where the OIG chooses not to immediately investigate,” the report says, referring to the VA Office of Inspector General, “VHA leadership will launch either a fact finding or formal administrative investigation. Where misconduct is confirmed, appropriate personnel actions will promptly be pursued.”

Officials from both hospitals, as well as the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, said they could not comment until reviewing the report.

The audit found that as of May 14, more than 3,600 appointments at the Young center not including surgery or procedures — or 3 percent of the total — were scheduled 30 days or longer not including those on the Electronic Wait List. At Haley, more 5,300 appointments not including surgery or procedures — 5 percent of the total — were scheduled 30 days or longer, not including the Electronic Wait List. Across VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, about 33,000 appointments were scheduled 30 days out or longer.

There were 1,983 new enrollee appointment requests at the Young center, with 712 on the Electronic Wait List. At Haley, there were 238 new enrollee appointment requests and 565 on the Electronic Wait List according to the report.

New patients at the Young center waiting for a primary care appointment waited an average 47.55 days while the same patients at Haley waited 41.95 days.

By comparison, established patients waited an average of 2.85 days at the Young center while they waited an average of 2.07 days at Haley.

New mental health patients waited an average of 39.33 days at the Young center and 27.02 days at Haley, while established patients waited 2.16 days at the Young center and 3.19 days at Haley.

The audits were ordered by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki before he resigned.

Shinseki called for the audits after CNN and other news organizations reported that as many as 40 patients in Phoenix died waiting for care and that there was an effort to cover up the problems.

USA Today and other news organizations reported that clerks at a VA center in Fort Collins, Colo., were told to falsify documents to make it seem patients were being seen in a timely manner.

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