Federal Report Slams VA Over Wait Times, System Mismanagement
The average wait time for an initial appointment at the Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility was 115 days, far longer than the 26 days the hospital claimed and well beyond the agency's goal of a maximum 14-day wait, according to an interim report released Wednesday by the VA inspector general, Reuters reports (Lawder et al., Reuters, 5/29)
The report -- produced by acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin -- also found that at least 1,700 patients were not placed on the official appointment waiting list and might not have ever received care.
The report said that a "direct consequence" of the incorrectly reported wait times was that the facility's leadership "significantly understated the time new patients waited for their primary care appointment" in their performance reviews, which are used to calculate bonuses and salary increases.
Griffin said the agency was also looking into "numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers" at the Phoenix facility. However, Griffin said the report did not address allegations that 40 patients died while awaiting medical care at the facility, saying that those allegations could only be weighed after analyzing autopsy reports and other documents, which still are under review (Oppel/Shear, New York Times, 5/28).
Report Confirms System-Wide Problems
According to AP/Modern Healthcare, Griffin said the report confirmed allegations of excessive patient wait times in the VA system (AP/Modern Healthcare, 5/28).
The report identified several ways the Phoenix VA center manipulated wait times, such as creating additional waiting lists aside from the official electronic one, and suggested that such tactics were "systematic throughout" the entire VA health care system (New York Times, 5/28). Griffin added that he is now investigating 42 VA health centers, up from the original 26 (AP/Modern Healthcare, 5/28).
In addition, the inspector general also "contacted and [is] coordinating [its] efforts with the Department of Justice" after it found "sufficient credible evidence" that a "potential violation of criminal and/or civil law" occurred (New York Times, 5/28).
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said "the findings are reprehensible to me, to this department and to veterans." He added that he has ordered the Phoenix facility to provide timely care to those patients who were not included on the official wait list (Kesling, Wall Street Journal, 5/38). According to Reuters, Shinseki is expected to release results from his own review of the situation to President Obama this week (Reuters, 5/29).
Lawmakers Criticize VA Officials During Hearing
After the report was released, Democrats and Republicans during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing criticized three VA officials about the agency's response to lawmakers' request for information on the issue and the report's findings, the Los Angeles Times' "Nation Now" reports.
According to "Nation Now," VA has submitted more than 5,500 pages of documents to lawmakers during the course of their investigation into the matter, but committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said the agency was stonewalling the panel and failed to produce all the requested materials (Simon, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
Miller also said the report's findings "make it all the more urgent for VA to come clean," adding that until the agency understands the panel is "deadly serious," VA "can expect [the committee] to be over [its] shoulder every single day" (Klimas, Washington Times, 5/28).
Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) said, "We'll get to the bottom of this, uncover the truth and ensure a solution is implemented to make sure something like this never happens again" ("Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
According to the Washington Times, none of the three VA officials were able to provide much detail on who destroyed the wait list documents or why the agency has not more promptly responded to the panel's subpoena. However, Thomas Lynch, VA assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations, pledged that the 1,700 patients who were not yet seen by a physician would be contacted by Friday in order to assess their medical needs. Lynch also acknowledged that VA should have sent more patients to outside care facilities while it addressed its own shortcomings (Washington Times, 5/28).
Obama: Report 'Extremely Troubling'
White House spokesperson Jessica Santillo said that President Obama had reviewed the report and considered the findings "extremely troubling." The White House said that Obama has called on VA to implement immediate steps to reach out to patients who are still waiting for care (Rampton, Reuters, 5/28).
Dems Join GOP in Calling for Shinseki's Resignation
A number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday called on Shinseki to resign, just hours after the report was released, the Washington Post's "Post Politics" reports.
According to "Post Politics," Miller was joined by fellow Republicans House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard McKeon (Calif.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in urging Shinseki to resign, with Miller saying that while Shinseki has "served his country honorably," he "appears completely oblivious to the severity of the health care challenges" facing VA (O'Keefe/Lowery, "Post Politics, 5/28).
Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.) and John Walsh (Mont.) also called for Shinseki's resignation, joined later in the day by separate statements from Democratic Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) with similar appeals (Everett/Herb, Politico, 5/28).
In addition, Miller and McCain joined a growing list of lawmakers who are calling on the Department of Justice to conduct a formal investigation into the issue ("Post Politics," Washington Post, 5/28).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.