INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
An audit of VA hospitals and clinics nationwide found that 273 Indiana
patients had been waiting for initial appointments at facilities in
Indianapolis and northern Indiana 90 days or more after requesting them.
The audit, based on
a snapshot of the VA system on May 15, also found that about 230 others in
Indiana who enrolled in the VA health care system over the past 10 years
have apparently fallen through the cracks and never received appointments.
That includes 173 at the Indianapolis VA hospital.
“This is just an
example of how widespread the problems were,” said Peter Gaytan, executive
director of the American Legion’s national headquarters in Washington.
The audit is the
first nationwide look at the VA network following reports two months ago of
patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix
forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30.
731 sites nationwide and found that the agency’s complicated appointment
process created confusion among schedulers and supervisors and that a 14-day
goal for seeing first-time patients was unattainable. The VA has since
abandoned that goal.
Both the Richard L.
Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis and the VA Northern Indiana
Health Care System, which has campuses in Fort Wayne and Marion, had much
longer waiting periods for new patients than for established patients.
At the Indianapolis
facility, which was flagged for a follow-up review, the new patients waiting
to see a primary care physician waited an average of nearly 54 days, far
above the 2.6-day average wait faced by established patients.
seeking the same care at the northern Indiana facilities waited nearly 32
days, compared with about 3 days for established patients.
Waits for new
patients seeking specialists were lower at Roudebush, at about 32 days, but
jumped to more than 48 days in northern Indiana.
spokeswoman Julie Webb said the hospital is contacting everyone on its
electronic waiting list to determine if it can see them sooner. If the
hospital can’t offer them appointments within 30 days, it will offer to
direct them to care elsewhere in the community.
She also said the
hospital was starting Saturday clinics in an effort to see new primary care
patients more rapidly.
Webb said the
figure of 173 people believed to have fallen through the cracks in
Indianapolis was misleading, because it simply represents the number of
veterans who have signed up for the system.
Indiana state commander for the Disabled American Veterans, said he had not
seen the audit yet, but added, “It’s my belief that they’re kind of
Sen. Joe Donnelly called the 90-day waiting period “absolutely
“We need to give VA
medical facilities the tools they need to bring down wait times and improve
care, and we need to hold VA officials responsible for any misconduct,”
Donnelly said in a statement.
Webb and Mike
Brady, spokesman for the Northern Indiana VA system, said the long wait
times for new patients stem in part from the extra time initial appointments
require, which makes them harder to fit into the schedule.
Webb and Brady also
noted that their facilities have difficulty attracting primary care
physicians, who prefer to set up shop in the private market.
“We admit we need
additional capacity and we are working on that,” Webb said.
audit found more than 57,000 patients were still waiting for initial medical
appointments after 90 days, and an additional 64,000 who enrolled in the VA
health care system in the last decade had never been seen.