WALLA WALLA — Local VA officials are puzzled by a USA Today news report Wednesday that said almost 19 percent of staff who schedule appointments at Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center were instructed to manipulate data on how long military veterans wait for medical appointments.
The report cited details from a nationwide audit of record-keeping at VA facilities.
Another 12.5 percent of the schedulers told auditors they tracked appointments outside the VA’s official scheduling system, the newspaper reported.
Walla Walla VA officials said today they are unsure how the numbers used by USA Today were arrived at.
“These are reporters looking in,” spokeswoman Linda Wondra told the Union-Bulletin this morning. “This data is old.”
Brian Westfield, director of Walla Walla’s VA, noted auditors who came here in May spoke to just 12 of 21 regular schedulers, choosing from a list of employees provided and using scripted questions to gather data.
According to audit findings, the wait list here was used properly more than 87 percent of the time.
The answers received then had to be interpreted by officials, a subjective process, Wondra added.
The May audit was launched amid allegations that VA hospitals in Arizona and Colorado manipulated data on how long patients waited to see doctors by keeping “secret waiting lists” outside of normal VA record-keeping systems.
The VA in June released a preliminary report confirming that officials at the VA medical center in Phoenix misreported data on delays in care. The practice was common across the VA, according to the report, and it led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Westfield said Wednesday that the only two known scheduling issues at the facility are being addressed.
One happened in the radiology clinic, where technicians file appointments on paper with veterans, Westfield said.
The other scheduling problem came in the Boardman, Ore., telehealth clinic, he said. Veterans there only get to see a doctor in person once a month, but they don’t know exactly which day. So a list of veterans who want to see the doctor is taken and they are notified when the doctor’s visit is scheduled.
“They are by no means secret lists,” Westfield said.
Getting a physician to the Boardman clinic on a set, regular schedule is in the works, he said.
Wondra acknowledged the VA does struggle with some things.
“Yes, we do have patients 90 days on waiting lists, which is allowed, and we’re working to address that. We have already addressed our issues, we want to make them better.”
Westfield assumes no serious problems were found during a May internal audit because no one has been back for a follow-up visit, he said. He also points out that Walla Walla has no waiting lists for appointments greater than 90 days.
Another auditing visit is scheduled in Walla Walla in August, a routine review that comes around every three years, he said.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322.