Atlanta VA Officials: Center Improving, But Wait Times Still Too Long For Some

Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE News

Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center officials say data used to compare the center with other VA facilities show the center has made a number of improvements in the past two years, but they also say the center faces a number challenges. The facility is among several in the system that have faced scrutiny during a recent VA scandal over primary care wait times.


Officials say the center is doing better in measures that include: mental health care and specialty wait times, in-hospital complications and healthcare associated infections. Center Director Leslie Wiggins also said the data show the center has made significant strides in second quarter of the 2014 fiscal year.

“20 out of the 27 metrics moved in a positive direction.”

Still, the center is currently ranked as a two out five star VA facility. Officials say they believe the ranking will soon improve. 

One of the biggest challenges the center continues to face is primary care wait times. In January, February and March the center ranked in the bottom 20 percent of all VA facilities measured. Atlanta VA Chief of Staff Doctor David Bower said the primary care wait times are something the facility is working to address.

“We have one of the fastest growing VAs, and we also have one of the fasted demands for care. That’s been reflected in our wait times, that we’re not where we want to  be in those wait times,” said Bower.

Bower said the Atlanta VA plans to open another nearby Decatur campus and a VA overhaul bill signed by the president last week will allow for the expansion of a Cobb Clinic. Officials are also hopeful the newly signed measure will give the center more financial resources to hire additional employees and open new buildings.

Several veterans say the changes can’t come soon enough. 56-year-old Army Veteran Maurice Hicks was critical of how long it was taking center doctors to remove a problematic bag in his wife’s stomach used for dialysis.  He also said he has to wait three months for an eye appointment.

“There’s more money that’s needed in the veteran administration. You need more doctors, you need more RN nurses.”

Others like Vietnam Veteran Andy Johnson say things are getting better. He said in the past he waited as long as two years to receive primary care and his latest appointment will take two months. But he says that’s still too long.“I feel like I should be treated better because I got shot five times in Vietnam,” said Hicks.

Other measures where the facility struggled were its call center and employee satisfaction. Officials said the center has  added 15 more employees to help improve its call center. 

However, officials say the majority of the metrics it releases to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show the center is doing better or equal to private hospitals.