System-wide VA audit claims 44-day wait for new patients in San Diego region

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – New patients at Veterans Affairs medical facilities in the San Diego region generally had to wait nearly 44 days for a primary care or specialty care appointment, according to an systemwide audit released Monday.

The Department of Veterans Affairs launched a nationwide access audit last month after it was reported that patients at the VA medical center in Phoenix died while awaiting care. The scandal led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The audit found that in San Diego, 94% of appointments were booked with a wait time of 30 days or less, but new patients had to wait an average of two weeks longer. New patients seeking mental health services were seen, on average, in 34 days.

Established patients at the VA San Diego Healthcare System were seen within three to five days, according to the audit.

The Escondido Community Outpatient Clinic, which NBC7/39 reported is privately run and contracts with the VA, was one of 31 flagged for requiring further review from facilities visited during phase two of the audit. The VA said the finding was based on responses by top officials at the facilities to questions and from comments from the site reports.

Nationally, the audit found that an “overly complicated scheduling process” results in “high potential to create confusion among scheduling clerks and front-line supervisors”; meeting a 14-day wait-time performance target was “simply not attainable because of a growing demand for services”; 13% of scheduling staff interviewed said they were instructed to enter a different date in the scheduling system than what the patient asked for; and pressure was placed on schedulers to make waiting times appear more favorable.

The national audit also found that staffing problems were discovered at smaller outpatient clinics.

Categories: KUSI