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June 07. 2014 9:05PM

VA centers await report on U.S. audit

New Hampshire residents will learn Monday whether veterans seeking treatment at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in Manchester and White River Junction, Vt., have experienced wait times and delayed care similar to those exposed recently at the Phoenix veterans hospital.

Patient access data from the two medical centers that serve New Hampshire veterans will be part of a nationwide audit report the agency plans to release Monday.

The VA conducted the national audit of all medical centers in response to a scandal concerning delays in patient scheduling and access at the Phoenix medical center that led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 30.

Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson last week said the data "will demonstrate the extent of the systemic problems we have discovered."

"No veteran should ever have to wait to receive the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice," Gibson said.

Naaman Horn, public affairs officer at the White River Junction facility, said both that hospital and the Manchester facility have worked with the VA's Central Office on the audit "to ensure a full understanding of VA's scheduling policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care."

Horn said officials have also been "systematically reviewing capacity" at the two medical centers and at VA community-based clinics "in an effort to maximize our ability to provide veterans medical appointments when and in the manner they want them."

And if hospital officials find situations in which they are not able to do so, he said, "we are authorized to increase the use of care in the community through non-VA care."

"No veteran in northern New England should have to wait for the quality health care they have earned and deserve," Horn said. "This is our top priority."

Meanwhile, the Office of Inspector General for the VA, which recently issued an interim report documenting problems at the Phoenix hospital, is continuing its own investigation into the allegations of scheduling delays and mismanagement at VA centers.

Catherine Gromek, a spokeswoman for that office, said officials are conducting thorough reviews of 42 VA centers to determine how widespread the problems are. She said the work is expected to take until August. She said the inspector's office does not disclose the locations of such investigations until they are complete.

The VA's Office of Inspector General has offices across the country, including one in Bedford that covers the Northeast, Gromek said.

That office conducts health care inspections if a complaint is received either through the inspector general's hotline or from a congressional office, she said.

The agency's Office of Healthcare Inspections also conducts a Combined Assessment Program review of each VA facility every three years, evaluating patient care quality and environment of care.

The report on the most recent review of the Manchester VA hospital was released in April 2013. From among dozens of areas reviewed, it made 10 recommendations for improvements in the areas of quality management, medication management, coordination of care, long-term home oxygen therapy and construction safety.

The report also noted one objective of the review process is to "provide crime awareness briefings to increase employee understanding of the potential for program fraud and the requirement to refer suspected criminal activity" to the Office of Inspector General.

The most recent Combined Assessment Program report on the White River Junction hospital was released in February.

Among the accomplishments noted was the creation of the No Veteran Dies Alone program, which enlists volunteers to stay with patients in hospice suites when no loved ones are available.

The report documented needed improvements in four areas: quality management, medication management, nurse staffing and pressure ulcer prevention and management.


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