Last week, the Office of Inspector General released its report on wait list complaints within the Eastern Colorado Health Care System. Its findings backed up claims that ECHCS staff were using unofficial wait lists to track referrals for mental health care.
The improper use of separate wait lists for health appointments at the VA has been a problem for years, coming to a head when the practice was discovered at the Phoenix VA hospital where nearly 40 veterans died while waiting for care. But years after the discovery in Phoenix, facilities nationwide have continued the practice, with supervisors instructing and encouraging improper scheduling.
The use of unofficial wait lists has a ripple effect on the scheduling system and veteran care as a whole. The OIG notes that by using these lists, management would be working from incorrect data when making staffing decisions that affect requests for care. Additionally, if wait time data was incorrect in the electronic waitlist system, veterans who may have qualified for care outside the VA through the Veterans Choice Program wouldn’t have been notified.
Among the findings for Colorado Springs in the OIG report for fiscal year 2016 were:
- 38 percent of PTSD Clinic Team consults were not scheduled within Veterans Health Administration’s goal of seven days;
- In 64 percent of cases where care take place, staff scheduled appointments outside of VHA’s policy of 30 days;
- In 91 percent of cases where care took place, staff inaccurately entered the clinically indicated date that determines wait times;
- In around 210 consults, veterans were wrongly denied care through the Veterans Choice Program
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs made access to mental health care one of his top priorities in taking over the department. In order to achieve this, veterans must have the opportunity to access care when they need it, not when the VA decides they need it. The VA must hold its employees accountable for improper scheduling and allow veterans to seek mental health care in the community if that’s the best option for them.
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