Analysis Finds Long Wait Times at Most Calif. VA Medical Centers
All but one of the 61 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in California had wait times of at least 31 days for some appointments, according to an Associated Press analysis, the AP/Portville Recorder reports (AP/Portville Recorder, 4/9).
For the analysis, AP looked at data from Sept. 1, 2014, to Feb. 28, 2015, on 940 individual VA medical centers. The data included all VA outpatient clinics and hospitals with consistent data on wait times (Caruso, AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/9). Researchers also analyzed VA system-wide data from Aug. 1, 2014, to Feb. 28, 2015 (AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/9). According to the AP/Bee, VA altered its system for measuring wait times near the end of last summer, and, as a result, the new wait-time data cannot be directly compared with VA data.
California VA Medical Centers Analysis Findings
The analysis found that the California-based facilities with the highest percentage of delayed appointments included the:
- Northern California VA-Sacramento Valley, with 6.76% of 133,328 appointments having wait times that exceed VA's timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days;
- San Luis Obispo VA Clinic, with 6.42% of 5,419 appointments delayed at least 31 days; and
- Sepulveda VA Clinic, with 5.35% of 86,373 appointments delayed at least 31 days.
Meanwhile, the facilities with the lowest percentage of appointments delayed at least 31 days were the:
- Cabrillo VA Clinic, with 0% of 2,910 appointments;
- Capitola VA Clinic, with 0.12% of 811 appointments; and
- East Los Angeles VA Clinic, with 0.15% of 5,176 appointments (AP/Portville Recorder, 4/9).
Overall, the analysis found that the number of veterans experiencing wait times of more than 30 or 60 days for non-emergency care at VA facilities has been steady since summer 2014.
The analysis found that:
- Between May 2014 and September 2014, wait times of more than 30 days increased using VA's old counting method from 4.2% to almost 5%; and
- Between August 2014 and February 2015, wait times of more than 30 days increased using VA's new counting method from 2.4% to 2.9%.
Overall, nearly 894,000 appointments at VA health care facilities between August 2014 and February 2015 -- about one in 36 appointments during that time period -- did not meet VA's timeliness goal of patients being seen within 30 days, including almost 232,000 that involved wait times of longer than 60 days.
In addition, the analysis found that the number of veterans experiencing wait times of more than 90 days almost doubled.
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said, "I think what we are seeing is that as we improve access, more veterans are coming." He said that VA is "doing a whole series of things ... to deal with the immediate issue. But we need an intermediate-term plan that moves us ahead a quantum leap, so that we don't continue over the next three or four years just trying to stay up. We've got to get ahead of demand."
Gibson added that it would take some time for the initiatives in the VA reform law to "move the needle" on reducing wait times. In addition, he said that the choice card program is "not working the way it needs to work," although he said he was enthusiastic about the program's potential going forward (Caruso, AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.