Average wait at Rochester-area VA 37 days
Canandaigua VA Medical Center has added appointment slots for new patients, whom Department of Veterans Affairs data show wait longer to see a doctor than those at most veterans’ hospitals across the country.
At 37 days, the wait for treatment at Canandaigua tops five weeks, and more than double the department’s internal goal of two weeks — an ambitious target that has been linked to widespread falsification of records nationwide.
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Indeed, three out of four new patients at Canandaigua wait longer than the recommended 14 days, according to the data.
Canandaigua VA Medical Center spokesman Daniel Ryan said new slots have been added at the medical center and the center’s outpatient clinic in Rochester and that both locations have ramped up scheduling of Saturday appointments to meet demand.
“Our goal is to provide the care that veterans have earned and deserve,” Ryan said. “We will continue to look at ways to improve new patient wait times.”
The data was obtained through an open records request by the Democrat and Chronicle’s sister media outlet, USA Today, and contained the number of patients who sought and received new general care at VA hospitals and medical centers between October 2013 and March 2014.
Data for outpatient clinics, like the one in Rochester, were not included.
The average waiting time at the 140 medical institutions for which data was provided was 27 days, with the worst being 65 days in Nashville, Tenn., and the best being eight days in Clarksburg, W. Va.
Last week, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned after releasing an internal audit that showed systemic manipulation of appointment records. In stepping down, Shinseki acknowledged that pressure to meet the 14-day target may have led to fraud, and ordered that the benchmark no longer be linked to bonuses and pay raises.
The audit showed that select staff at 216 VA health facilities were taught to manipulate wait times and conceal delays, and found that in nearly two-thirds of facilities there had been at least one instance of reporting false wait times.
“This behavior runs counter to our core values,” the audit read.
Auditors did not identify the facilities where false wait-time reporting was uncovered, but noted that suspected “willful misconduct” would be reported to the department’s Office of the Inspector General.
The VA has confirmed that 42 facilities are under investigation for falsifying wait records.
A recent inspector general review of Canandaigua VA Medical Center and its Rochester clinic did not examine waiting times for new patients but was mostly complimentary of scheduling efforts for current patients.
The review showed wait times for follow-up appointments at Rochester to be in line with the national average of about two weeks, and to be under 10 days at Canandaigua.
Dick Grube, 65, a Vietnam War veteran who volunteers with veterans and is active in a robust Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Perinton, described complaints about wait times locally to be minimal.
“Some guys say they wait a couple of weeks, but I rarely run into guys who badmouth it,” Grube said. “For the guys who are really in trouble, they get taken care of right away.”