Some employees at Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia said they were instructed to enter an appointment date other than the one patients requested, according to a recently released audit performed after the Veterans Health Administration scheduling scandal broke.
The 16 percent of employees who told investigators they had been instructed to alter appointment dates put Dorn above the national average, which was 12.77 percent, and below the Southeastern average, at 22.03 percent, according to the audit presented at a recent congressional briefing.
The practice was more pervasive at some other VA facilities, including 38.71 percent in Charleston. Among the worst in the east were Montgomery, Ala., at 57.14 percent, and Clarksburg, W.Va., at 53.33 percent.
The appointment scandal arose from a nationwide goal to cut appointment waiting times to no more than 14 days. In order to meet that goal, and receive bonuses, some facilities have since admitted employees were instructed to falsify appointment dates.
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The audit done in early May determined Dorn had inconsistent practices on the appointment dates across the various clinics at the facility. Only 24 percent of Dorn staff said they used the Electronic Wait List correctly, putting Dorn at about half of the national average. But Dorn did better than the national average in terms of calling patients to remind them of upcoming appointments, at 63.64 percent.
Timothy McMurry, who took over as director at Dorn in May, met with schedulers early in his tenure to make sure they understood the appropriate scheduling practices and received thorough training. He also told them they could “stop the line” if they believed an inappropriate practice was committed.
“We are striving to improve access through a number of actions,” said Dorn spokesman Kevin McIver. “We have contacted, or attempted to contact, our veterans who need an appointment, and we have created 1,700 new appointments. We are hiring additional staff, including medical and mental health personnel. A new call center is being established to improve communications.”
The U.S. House approved a bill Wednesday that would pump $16.3 billion into Veterans Affairs, aimed at hiring more health care workers and setting up a system to pay for coverage outside the VA system for veterans who face long waits or live a long way from VA facilities.
“Our veterans have experienced the unthinkable at VA hospitals across this nation because of the administration’s mismanagement and corruption,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.. “Giving veterans access to private care and promoting accountability are two necessary steps that will put us on the path to ensuring our veterans receive the health care they have earned and deserve.”