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Rochester VA clinic staff ‘felt pressure’ to manipulate wait time data, audit finds

Posted by: Corey Mitchell under 1st District, Minnesota congressional Updated: August 1, 2014 - 5:31 AM

An internal audit by the VA found that staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Rochester “felt pressure to manipulate” appointment data to hide delays in medical care to veterans.

“The audit information is troubling, but not shocking give the culture we’ve uncovered at VA in recent months and the pressure to hit unrealistic wait-time goals,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who represents Rochester.

The audit by the VA’s Veterans Health Administration was ordered earlier this year by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

In response to cover-ups of wait times at VA facilities, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have reached an agreement that will provide $10 billion in emergency funding to the VA to allow veterans to seek private care rather than face long wait times at Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Walz was a member of the House-Senate conference that negotiated the deal.

 “[The audit] underscores the importance of the … legislation we passed. This legislation ends the practice of using wait-time metrics for performance goals.”

Minneapolis VA officials are awaiting a final report from the VA Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C.

VA policy is to enter the date the veteran requests as the “desired date” even if that time is not available. That date is then used to track waiting times for veterans to get appointments.

Patrick Kelly, director of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System said: “We don’t have enough information … to really take action on that. When there’s a further level of review, we will then take the appropriate … suggested or needed actions.”

As part of the audit, 43 schedulers in the Minneapolis VA Health Care System – including its network of 13 clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin -- were asked whether they were instructed to alter scheduling data or felt pressured to do so. The Minneapolis system has about 900 schedulers total.

Five schedulers in the Minneapolis region said they received instructions to alter appointment data. One scheduler said they were told to track appointments outside the system.

Kelly said the issues were tied to compliance issues at two clinics and “never any issue of integrity or trying to hide anything.”

The report found no offenses in the St. Cloud VA Health Care System. Released this week, the report follows up on an audit of 900 Veterans Affairs’ facilities throughout the United States.

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