Health Care

June 9, 2014

Dorn ranks near bottom in VA hospital waiting times

Average wait for new patient is 76.75 days, one of the worst in the nation

The average wait for a new patient at Dorn VA Medical Center to see a primary-care physician is 76.75 days, ranking the Columbia facility as the sixth-worst among all VA hospitals.

Established patients at Dorn also wait longer to see primary-care physicians than most VA hospitals, 9.64 days. In that regard, Dorn ranks as the 10th-worst among 140 facilities. Dorn also is the 14th-worst in terms of waiting time for new patients to see specialists, 11th-worst for established patients to see specialists, 31st-worst for new patients to see mental health professionals and 20th-worst for established patients to see mental health professionals.

No facility ranked below Dorn in all six categories, while 82 facilities ranked better than Dorn in each category.

The statistics, released Monday by the VA, were compiled as part of a survey conducted in May as problems with waiting times at VA hospitals nationwide drew attention from Congress and the media.

Dorn already had a black mark against it after a VA Inspector General report last year found backlogs for gastroenterology consultations of as many as 4,000 patients at Dorn in 2011-2012. That backup prompted months of delays in diagnosis and treatment, which have been linked to 52 cases of cancer and at least six deaths.

The latest scandal, which led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, involved hospital administrators setting up two different sets of appointment books to make it appear they were meeting a goal for appointments to be made within 14 days. The survey released Monday found that 67,035 of the 78,730 appointments (or 85 percent) at Dorn were scheduled within 14 days. Another 4,104 were scheduled between 15 and 30 days, and 2,703 were within 61-90 days.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said in a statement that “the wait times our veterans have had to endure at the Dorn VA and at other VA hospitals throughout the country are unacceptable.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said last week that while he is unsatisfied with the delays, new Dorn administrators have assured him that workers at Dorn had not kept two sets of books to hide the scheduling problems.

“That was the first thing I asked when I heard about what was going on in Phoenix (where the double lists first were publicized),” Wilson said last week. “I asked at Dorn and I was told when the new (management) team came in, that was the first thing they looked into, and they found no evidence it was going on there.

“The perversity of this whole thing was (some VA hospitals) were keeping a double list to earn bonuses. It makes my head explode.”

Wilson has confidence the new administration at Dorn, including director Timothy McMurry, will “resolve the issues plaguing our local veterans and restore accountability.”

Wilson said he has joined with Texas Sen. John Cornyn in asking for an FBI investigation of the double-book issue.

Wilson said the complaints to his staff about Dorn picked up about two years ago, “and it wasn’t the patients that were complaining, it was the doctors and the professional staff.”

Dorn and VA facilities in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, Augusta and Savannah were among the 112 sites investigators felt needed further review of scheduling and access issues.

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