Are the problems with the VA Health System fixed? It doesn’t sound like it. Moreover, it looks like the Jacksonville clinic is in the spotlight now. First Coast News and USA Today have done some recent investigative reporting and have found that Jacksonville’s VA Clinic has the worst wait time…in the country.
USA Today’s Report found the following:
- The new data show that dozens of hospitals and clinics leave a quarter or more of all their patients waiting 30 days or more for an appointment.
- Some facilities still have extremely long wait times for basic care, including 64 that have average wait times over 60 days for new patients seeking primary care. They include major facilities, such as hospitals in Baltimore; Jacksonville, Fla.; Temple, Texas, and Atlanta. All have at least 30,000 pending appointments.
- In Jacksonville, the average new patient is left waiting 77 days, a fact that previously obscured in the VA’s data because it was averaged into the much-better performance of the nearby Gainesville hospital. Jacksonville only sees two-thirds of its patients within 30 days, the worst rate of any major facility in the VA system.
The VA opened Jacksonville’s new outpatient clinic Spring 2013 and it is already at capacity. Veterans who use it said it is outstanding, but don’t ask how long it takes to see a doctor. If you rated the facility by itself they would probably give it an “A”, but if it is rated how long it takes a veteran to get an appointment they would probably give it an “F”. First Coast News interviewed Archie Scott, 61, who served in Vietnam and is a patient at the VA Jacksonville outpatient clinic. He said he fights constantly with the VA system to get an appointment. “You might get an appointment,” said Scott, “but then it might be prolonged.” “I’ve had to wait five six months to even get in,” said Scott.
FCN asked the head of the North Florida South Georgia VA system Thomas Wisnieski why the wait times are so long. Wisnieski said Jacksonville has the fastest growing market, about 125 new veterans each week, but they are trying to address it. He said he was not surprised by the data and he is not pleased with it. So what is he doing? Wisnieski said there are several initiatives in place.
1) The VA has extended hours and is making Saturday clinics available.
2)The VA is using days designated for staff training to see patients.
3)The VA is hiring six new doctors, two should be on-board soon.
4) The VA is in the process of securing additional space to see patients, since the current facility is at capacity.
Wisnieski said they’re also expanding their level of service to mental illness and Orthopedics.He said his report shows the wait for a Veteran to see a primary care doctor is about 45 days; even so veterans who are trying to get help say that is still unacceptable. “They’re not doing the best they can do,” said Scott, “they’re not doing the best they can do.” Wisnieski said the initiatives have been given high priority and in six months veterans should see some improvements.