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The Hampton VA improves wait times

Jordan Crawford | 6/24/2014, 4:22 p.m.
The Hampton VA Medical Center has reduced wait times for new patients from 25 to 41 percent, according to a bi-monthly update released last week from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A positive update has surfaced regarding the Hampton VA Medical Center’s waiting times. The center reduced wait times for new patients from 25 to 41 percent, according to a bi-monthly update released last week from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The update, which depicts patient data at VA hospitals and clinics on June 1, also shows a 21 percent increase in the total number of appointments at the Hampton VA. It is part of a national trend that has seen appointments increase nationwide by 200,000 from May 15 to June 1.

When data was released two weeks ago, Hampton had received mixed grades. Hospital officials acknowledged wait times were unacceptably high, but said they were pleased with a separate scorecard that measured quality of care.

It showed that a new patient waited an average of nearly 58 days for that first appointment. This week’s data cites a 41-day wait time, the previous average wait for specialty care was 68 days; it’s now down to 51 days. The average wait time for mental health care was 54 days, and it has dropped to about 32 days.

Across the country, the VA has “reached out to 70,000 veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics, but there is still much more work to be done,” said Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson.

Overall, the number of appointments at the Hampton center increased from 25,102 to 30,299, which also translated into longer wait times for some patients. Previously, only 4 percent of patients had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment. Now, with more patients scheduled, about 13 percent are waiting longer than 30 days.

Contacted for comment, a Hampton VA spokeswoman pointed to a section of the new update that was not part of the May 15 release. It shows wait times for appointments that were completed in April. It is “based on historical data, which the patient actually experiences,” Hampton VA spokeswoman Sheila Bailey said. The other data is forward-looking, based on appointments that are scheduled, but which haven’t yet happened. It doesn’t account for appointments that are rescheduled, canceled or moved up as doctors’ schedules permit, Bailey said.

The completed April 2014 data shows an even better wait-time improvement: 27 days for primary care, 28 days for specialty care and 12 days for mental health.

However, even as the VA touts progress in reducing wait times at Hampton and elsewhere, its leaders faced another grilling before Congress on Friday. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. lambasted what he called “the outlandish bonus culture” at the VA.

More than $2.8 million was paid out in performance awards to senior executives for fiscal year 2013, Miller said.

“These performance awards went to at least 65 percent of the senior executive workforce at the department,” he added. “In fact not a single senior manager at VA, out of 470 individuals, received a less than fully successful performance review for the last fiscal year.”

Based on VA scandals in Phoenix and elsewhere, “I wholeheartedly disagree with VA’s assessment of its senior staff,” he said.