Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 4, 2014

Eshoo and Speier to host meeting on VA issues

Organization hopes to provide transparency in midst of national scandal over wait times, scheduling practices

by Elena Kadvany

Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier will host a town hall meeting on access to care at the Palo Alto VA Hospital on Monday, July 7, to provide veterans and the community with the opportunity to ask questions and get answers about the VA's appointment process. Eshoo and Speier will be joined by Director of the Palo Alto VA Lisa Freeman.

"Amid deeply disturbing revelations about delayed care of veterans throughout the nation and the scandal of information being manipulated, it is critically important to not only review wait times for care but also have veterans ask their own questions and have them addressed," Eshoo said in a press release. "This town hall meeting will provide a forum for veterans in our region to share their experiences with access to care at the Palo Alto VA, and, moving forward, help to develop even better systems to improve the VA hospital for our veterans."

A 35-page independent report conducted by the VA's inspector general and released May 28 found that 1,700 veterans using a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial, secret wait lists, a practice that helped staff to cover up delays in treating patients. The report drew from reports of 226 veterans who had sought appointments at the hospital in 2013, finding that 84 percent had to wait more than two weeks to be seen. At least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments in Phoenix, according to CNN.

Though the report focused on evidence from the Phoenix hospital, it called the practices a "systemic problem nationwide." Similar allegations have emerged at other VA hospitals across the country, with 42 centers now under investigation for falsifying wait records.

As of June 19, the Palo Alto VA reportedly scheduled about 89 percent of its appointments in 30 days or less and about 10 percent in more than 30 days, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data. The department is now posting twice-monthly updates in the middle and end of each month to show the current status of wait times at all VA's.

According to the latest data, new Palo Alto patients (those who have not been seen in this specific clinic in the last year) seeking future primary-care appointments have an average wait time of 73 days, while established patients seeking primary care wait an average of five days. New patients seeking specialty care wait on average 43 days for an appointment; established patients wait an average of six days.

New patients seeking mental health appointments at the Palo Alto VA wait an average of 24 days and established patients about four days.

During the month of April, the average wait time for completed primary-care appointments for new Palo Alto patients was 18 days; for specialty care, 25 days; and mental health care, seven days.

In early June, a Department of Veterans Affairs audit found that one of the Palo Alto Health Care System's three inpatient facilities required further review, with one employee in Livermore raising concern about scheduling practices. Palo Alto VA spokesman Michael Hill-Jackson said Wednesday that the organization has not received any further requests for a visit to or information on the Livermore facility.

Monday's meeting will be held in Building 101 at the Palo Alto VA, 3801 Miranda Ave., from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Online Editor Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

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