VA health care providers across the country participated in the second annual Access Stand Down February 27th, an effort to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for appointments.
The VA identified about 81,000 veterans who had been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment at a Level 1 clinic. According to the VA, Access Stand Down assessed 93% of those patients. The VA also identified 3,319 patients on its Electronic Wait List (EWL) who had been waiting more than 7 days for an appointment in a Level 1 clinic. By the end of February, 77% of those patients had received an appointment.
“Addressing access on a grassroots level is probably one of the most important things the VA can do today because despite all the issues that are going on in the VA, access to care is really our central goal: delivering healthcare to veterans,” Ronnie Marrache, the Chief of Medicine at VA Maine told a local TV news station.
The Stand Down came as the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) publicly released its reports for the first time on the original wait time controversy. The OIG released 14 reports on facilities in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota. Most of the reports were conducted in 2015 but had not been made publicly available.
“OIG has completed more than 70 criminal investigations related to wait times and provided information to VA’s Office of Accountability Review for appropriate action,” The OIG reported. “It has always been our intention to release information regarding the findings of these investigations at a time when doing so would not impede any planned prosecutive or administrative action.”
However, the VA expressed frustration that the reports were being released so long after the investigations. “Many of the investigations that have looked into potential scheduling irregularities examine a point in time going back to when the Department requested that OIG review the Access Audit findings from early 2014, almost 2 years ago,” the VA insisted. “Actions have already been taken where appropriate, and additional training and efforts to increase access to care have been underway since 2014 when these issues were discovered.”
According to the VA, OIG was not able to find any cases in which a VHA senior executive or other senior leader intentionally manipulated scheduling data. In 25 of the 77 investigations OIG completed, it found no scheduling irregularities in 25 of the reports. However in 18 of the reports, OIG did find intentional misuse of scheduling systems. The VA Office of Accountability Review disciplined 29 employees related to the 12 reports “with actions ranging from admonishment to removal.”