Oregon VA clinics fare poorly in national audit
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Oregon Veterans Administration medical centers fared poorly in a national audit, with the state's facilities recording some of the nation's longest wait times for primary care, specialist care and mental health care.
In Oregon, the Portland VA Medical Center had the nation's fifth-longest wait time for new patient primary care. New patients had to wait an average of 80 days before they could be seen, far longer than the department's stated 14-day goal.
The audit also said further reviews are necessary and the Portland and Vancouver campuses of the Portland VA Medical Center and the Roseburg VA Medical Center.
Portland VA Medical Center public affairs officer Dan Herrigstad said Monday that the delay in primary care is not a systemic issue, but one of staffing. The facility had 21 physician vacancies in May of a total of 75 primary-care physicians.
"This isn't new to us," Herrigstad said. "It's been a challenge for keeping primary care providers. It's a competitive market."
Herrigstad said the delays should be eased by seven temporary "gap providers" who will serve while another 17 physicians are hired within the next six months. Herrigstad said the facility's average ranking reflects both "challenging" clinics in the system that have long wait times and clinics in places like Bend, where people can be seen in one or two days.
The VA is adding new clinics in Salem, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, which Herrigstad said will alleviate the wait times.
The audit comes as Veterans Administration medical centers have endured criticism for long wait times for care. It is the first nationwide look at the VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center.
Examining 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics, the audit found long wait times across the country for patients seeking their first appointments with both primary care doctors and specialists. The review also indicated that 13 percent of schedulers reported being told by supervisors to falsify appointment schedules to make patient waits appear shorter.
The audit is the third in a series of reports in the past month into long wait times and falsified records at VA facilities nationwide. The controversy prompted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30. Shinseki took the blame for what he decried as a "lack of integrity" in the sprawling system providing health care to the nation's military veterans.
In White City, Oregon, the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics had the third-longest wait time in the country for specialist care wait times. And for veterans seeking mental health care, the White City facility was the seventh-longest.
The facility is the nation's only independent VA residential rehabilitation center, serving people with minimal medical needs who need assistance with issues such as substance abuse and homelessness.
SORCC public affairs officer Anna Diehl said the delays are due in part to the dearth of mental health providers that the facility can entice to the rural facility.
"It is quite the challenge to get psychologists, primary care providers to come to this part of the state," Diehl said.
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