FAIRFIELD — This area’s Department of Veterans Affairs clinics and medical centers are suffering from the same wait-time problems as the rest of the nation, but none are suspected of dubious scheduling practices, according to the health care system audit released this week by the VA.
The report included audit information on access to both the Northern California VA Healthcare System, which is based in Sacramento, but oversees outpatient clinics at Travis Air Force Base, Mare Island and Martinez, and the Palo Alto VA Healthcare System, which services the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Both are part of the VA Sierra Pacific Network that covers Northern California and northwestern Nevada.
Neither the Palo Alto or Northern California systems were listed as needing further review and investigation, according to the audit. Two other facilities were flagged for potential scheduling irregularities – the Livermore Medical Center and the Yuba City Outpatient Clinic.
The audit of the Northern California VA Healthcare System stated that 54,628 appointments out of 58,568 – or 93 percent – were scheduled within 30 days of the veteran patient’s request. The Palo Alto VA system got its patients scheduled with a doctor in fewer than 30 days 95 percent of the time, the audit stated.
Both VA health care systems didn’t meet the national average, which stated 96 percent of VA patients were able to get appointments scheduled with their doctors in 30 days or less.
The longest average waits were for new Northern California system VA patients scheduling an appointment with a primary care physician, an average 43.48 days, while the shortest average waits were for established patients scheduling a mental health appointment, an average of 2.87 days.
The nationwide audit gave a more complete picture that laid out the widespread problems in the VA’s facilities. It covered 731 facilities across the nation and was based on more than 3,700 staff interviews.
Overall, the audit found “a complicated scheduling process resulted in confusion among scheduling clerks and front-line supervisors in a number of locations.”
“A 14-day wait-time performance target for new appointments was not only inconsistently deployed throughout the health care system, but was not attainable given growing demand for services and lack of planning for resource requirements,” the audit stated. The audit also found that the 14-day goal was “simply not attainable” due to growing demand and lack of capacity.
The audit concluded “while the Veterans Health Administration must assess and learn from the access audit, we are immediately redoubling our efforts to quickly address delays in veterans’ health care.”
The audit was started after a political firestorm was ignited when a whistleblower revealed extensive problems at the Phoenix, Ariz., VA facility where dozens of veterans died while awaiting care there.
Army veteran Clyde Gamble of Vallejo, who has been helping other veterans get benefits for years, said he agreed with the Northern California audit figures. He said that he has had little problem with getting veterans care at local VA facilities within a reasonable amount of time – for the most part.
“There have been problems, but it has not been too bad,” Gamble said.
Gamble said the Oakland VA center and other facilities have been overloaded for years, partly because veterans from other areas come here for treatment to get away from poor VA service elsewhere.
He also said that the backlogs and long wait times “have been going on for years and this is nothing new.”
Navy veteran Bernard Costa of Vacaville was more dubious. He called the 93 percent figure “pure B.S. because I know a lot of vets who have had to wait a long time for an appointment.”
“This is something that has been ignored for a long time,” Costa said. “It is not news to the vets.”
Gamble said much has to be done to solve a problem that has been going on a long time.
“This has got to get better,” Gamble said. The audit, he said, will show “the next person in charge what needs to be fixed.”
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.