Longest average wait times for VA new patients

Veterans Affairs medical centers have come under criticism for long wait times for care. Here is a list of the facilities with the longest average waits as of May 15, according to audit results released Monday.

New patient primary care longest average wait time

1. Honolulu: 145 days

2. VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend HCS, Harlingen, Texas: 85 days

3. Fayetteville, N.C.: 83 days

4. Baltimore HCSd: 81 days

5. Portland, Ore.: 80 days

6. Columbia, S.C.: 77 days

7. Central Alabama Veterans HCS, Montgomery, Ala.: 75 days

8. Providence, R.I.: 74 days

9. Salt Lake City: 73 days

10. Richmond, Va.: 73 days

New patient specialist care average wait time

1. VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend HCS, Harlingen, Texas: 145 days

2. El Paso, Texas: 90 days

3. White City, Ore.: 88 days

4. Clarksburg, W.Va.: 86 days

5. St. Louis: 86 days

New patient mental health care average wait time

1. Durham, N.C.: 104 days

2. Clarksburg, W.Va.: 96 days

3. Amarillo, Texas: 61 days

4. El Paso, Texas: 60 days

5. Erie, Pa.: 57 days

The Associated Press

New patients in Charleston wait an average of 45 days to schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor at the VA hospital, a federal report released Monday shows.

That's about three times longer than the medical center's interim director, Scott Isaacks, told The Post and Courier last week. On Monday, Isaacks said the national report simply doesn't match the hospital's internal data.

"We are trying to understand the difference in the data," he said.

An audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found the agency's complicated appointment process created confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment, although the audit determined that time frame is unrealistic because there aren't "sufficient provider slots to accommodate a growing demand for services."

More than 57,000 veterans have been waiting for up to three months for medical appointments, according to the audit. An additional 64,000 who enrolled for VA health care over the past decade have never been seen by a doctor.

In Charleston, more than 100 patients posted appointment wait times of 90 days of more. The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center is one of 81 sites visited during a phase one audit that has been marked for further review. A list of those facilities, which also includes VA sites in Myrtle Beach and Columbia, was generated based on responses from front-line staff.

Isaacks, who said last week that he had not been made aware of any federal investigation into the local hospital, said he did not know what that review would entail.

The hospital has requested clarification from the central office to explain the federal numbers, which are different than information provided to The Post and Courier by the hospital last week.

"I can tell you that today, any patient that comes to our facility who needs a new primary care appointment will get it within 14 days. We do not have the access issues that are being discussed nationally," Isaacks said June 2.

While auditors determined new patients wait about 45 days for an appointment with a primary care doctor, the hospital did a better job scheduling all other appointments. The report found 97 percent of all appointments at the hospital were scheduled within at least 30 days.

Established patients wait less than two days for an appointment for a primary care or mental health provider and less than three days for an appointment with a specialist in Charleston.

Wait times for scheduled surgeries and procedures were excluded from the data.

Interactive graphic

Click here for an interactive with summary figures for VA healthcare statistics and a sortable table comparing hospitals by different patient waiting times.

Patients at Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia are waiting an average 77 days for their first appointment with a primary care doctor - the sixth-longest wait in the country.

At Dorn, more than 900 patients have been waiting 90 days or longer for medical appointments, the audit showed. It's the third in a series of reports in the past month into long wait times and falsified records at VA facilities nationwide. The controversy forced 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.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said the audit showed "systemic problems" that demand immediate action.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.