New Anchorage VA patients face average 29-day wait

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Monday, June 9, 2014 10:04pm
  • News

JUNEAU — The vast majority of medical appointments for veterans were scheduled within 14 days at the Alaska Veterans Health Care System in Anchorage, a federal audit released Monday showed.

Release of the Department of Veterans Affairs audit follow reports of problems, including delayed medical care, at VA facilities around the country.

On May 15, the Veterans Health Administration had more than 6 million appointments scheduled across the system. According to the audit’s findings, more than 57,000 veterans were waiting to be scheduled for care and nearly 64,000 who had enrolled in the health care system over the last 10 years but had not been seen for an appointment.

In Alaska, the audit looked at the Anchorage facility, whose services, according to its website, include primary, specialty and mental health outpatient care. Of nearly 6,300 appointments scheduled, 6,050 were made within 14 days.

The audit found there were nearly 40 new patients for whom appointments could not be scheduled in 90 days or fewer.

Nearly 140 newly enrolled veterans had requested an appointment during the enrollment process during the past 10 years and had not had an appointment scheduled, the audit found.

The average wait time for new patients to receive a primary care appointment was about 29 days for the Anchorage facility; that compared to an average of 1.28 days for an established patient.

The average wait for new patients for specialty care was 32.5 days, while it was 2.7 days for established patients.

The average wait for mental health appointments were about 21 days for new patients and 0.64 days for established patients.

The facility was not included on a list of centers flagged for further review.

Alaska’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, called the findings with regard to the Alaska facility encouraging. But she said it was important to note “these figures only represent a single, momentary snapshot that reflects a number of proactive moves made by the Anchorage outpatient clinic to reduce a backlog that reportedly reached 900 late last year.”

“Not only must we maintain these positive response times, we must make sure that our day-in, day-out commitment to those who served is achieved and sustained across our state at both major facilities and the community based outpatient clinics,” she said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said he was reading the report closely but was “pleased it shows the VA health care system in Alaska does not have the same significant problems that other states are experiencing.”

“While there is still work to do, today’s numbers reflect great improvement in the performance of the AK VA in recent years and point to Alaska as a model for successful programs that can be implemented in other states,” he said in a statement.

A VA spokesman was traveling Monday and could not immediately comment on the audit.

Late last month, Susan Yeager, director of the Alaska VA Health Care System, said the informal report the Alaska VA got back after the VA nationwide had teams review scheduling processes was that “our people are scheduling the right way.”

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