OIG Report backs claims: Tucson VA wait times increased

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A new development in our more than year long investigation into severe wait time issues at the Tucson VA. The VA just released a report that shows the wait times went from bad -- to worse -- last year.

Arizona's congressional leaders John McCain, Jeff Flake, Martha McSally, Raul Grijalva and former congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick called for a federal inspection after our report a year and a half ago exposed serious delay in scheduling appointments and staffing shortages.

The OIG reviewed primary care appointments and inspectors concluded wait times increased from fiscal year 2015 to 2016. The executive summary shows appointments are taking more than 30 days to schedule. But in the footnotes, the inspectors report that data might not be accurate because urgent and walk-in patent appointments were also included in the measures.

Since they generally have shorter wait times, inspectors report the percentage of patients who have to wait more than 30 days might be greater. The report reveals scheduling delays increase when snowbirds return in the winter. The report reveals leadership increased staffing levels to help alleviate the wait time issues at rural clinics.

KGUN9 reached out to the Tucson VA's new director, William Caron, who took over in February. We're told a new way to calculate wait times is now in place.

The information below is provided by the Tucson VA PIO: 

Footnote 2

The preferred/desired date was historically used to determine wait time for patients. The VA now calculates wait times if you are new to the VA or new to a particular clinic as follows:

If you are new to the VA, new to a particular clinic, or you are referred back to a particular clinic where you have not been seen in the last two years, then your wait time is equal to the number of days between the day that you request an appointment and the date of your appointment. For example: if you call to schedule an appointment for a new clinic on a Wednesday, and you are scheduled for an appointment on the following Tuesday, then your wait time is equal to 6 days.

How do we calculate wait times if you are not new to VA and need to be seen for a return appointment in a particular clinic?

If you are coming back for a return appointment in a particular clinic, then wait times are calculated differently than if you were a new patient. If we are able to offer you the exact date that you and your provider request for a return appointment (also called Patient-Indicated Date), then the wait time is zero. If we are only able to offer you a date after the date you and your provider request, then the wait time is equal to the number of days between the Patient-Indicated Date and the actual appointment date. For example, if the Patient-Indicated Date is 30 days from now and your appointment is 45 days from now, then the wait time for a return appointment is 15 days (45 minus 30 days).

Footnote 3

The footnote is referring to the fact that patients who walk-in and are seen the same day have no wait time and are included in the average wait time measure. If the same day appointments were to be excluded, the average wait time in days could potentially be higher, however excluding same day appointments would not fairly represent how long our Veteran population is waiting.  We aim to have open access for our Veterans where they can have their concerns addressed same day if needed.

We'll continue to investigate.  

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