Charleston VA director discusses wait times, parking

Parking is one of the main complaints at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

Veterans in Charleston are seen more quickly than patients at most VA hospitals, even though some are kept waiting more than a month for specialty appointments, the hospital’s director said Tuesday.

Patients who need mental health or primary care appointments at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center are actually seen faster than the national average, said director Scott Isaacks, but patients who need neurosurgery, gastrointestinal and dermatology appointments wait longer than they should.

Isaacks said he wants to hire more staff to cut these wait times, but the hospital in Charleston has no space to accommodate them.

It is “something we’re certainly working on here,” he said.

Two years after a national scandal revealed that some veterans across the country died waiting for appointments, a 292-page congressional report published last week found the Department of Veteran Affairs still has “profound deficiencies” in delivering health care.

The VA delivers high-quality care but is inconsistent from one site to the next, and problems with access remain, the panel said.

Isaacks called the VA hospital in Charleston one of the best in the country and highlighted several projects that reinforce its reputation.

Notably, he said, the Charleston hospital has become the first tele-mental health hub in the country. Psychologists and psychiatrists in Charleston will be treating veterans via computer screen who live as far away as Maine and Texas.

The Charleston VA hospital also plans to open its new $10 million parking garage later this year. Parking is perennially one of the top patient complaints, Isaacks said.

A survey concluded that the Charleston VA needs 1,000 more parking spaces. The new garage will add 300.

“It’s still not enough, but it’s certainly headed in the right direction,” Isaacks said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.