VA scandal: Staff increases, hour extensions have mixed success for wait times

Reforms within the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs continue to yield mixed results, with some VA facilities reporting an increase in wait times while others say their efforts have led to a significant reduction.

Even after Madison, Wisconsin's Veterans Hospital hired more staff, expanded care options and extended hours, wait times have more than doubled, according to the Associated Press. Increased demand is to blame, according to Chief of Staff Alan Bridges, who told the AP he believes the number of new patients is due to veterans choosing the VA as their accountable care organization.

Appointment volumes are up nearly 2 percent from the same time last year, according to the article. However, Madison's wait times are ahead of the national average, with 99 percent of patients getting appointments within 30 days and nearly 89 percent within a week.

Augusta, Georgia's Charlie Norwood Medical Center and its outpatient clinics in Aiken and Athens have also seen an increase in wait times, and officials similarly blame increased enrollment, according to the Chronicle. Norwood responded to the patient volume by hiring new providers and also has plans to expand the main hospitals primary care wing, extend hours and offer onsite mammograms. The latter is in response to the indictment of Cathedral Henderson, a former manager at the hospital, for falsifying referral records for 50 patients, 45 of whom needed mammograms, to hide the backlog of patients waiting for care. .

However, wait times are down at Louisville, Kentucky's Robley Rex VA Medical Center thanks to streamlined procedures and staff increases, according to WDRB. Nine in 10 patients at the facility finish their appointments within two weeks, and 17 percent on the same day, according to Director Martin Traxler. "Often we've been faster than the private sector," he said. "Where our wait time might have been over 30 days, in the private sector it may have been greater than 45 days."

Fresno, California's VA facility hopes for similar results with its own staff increase, according to the Fresno Bee. The hospital has hired two orthopedic doctors and is in the market for a third, with overall plans to hire 19 doctors, five nurse practitioners and physician assistants, 19 licensed vocational nurses and 26 registered nurses. In Virginia, Hampton Medical Center has made a similar dent in wait times even as its patient workload has grown nearly quadruple the national average, the Daily Press reports.

To learn more:
- read the AP article
- here's the Chronicle article
- check out the WDRB article
- read the Daily Press article

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