Audit: Atlanta VA Flagged For Further Review

Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE News

The Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been flagged for further review in light of growing national concern over long wait times for primary care, according to an internal audit released by the Department of Veterans Affairs Monday afternoon.

According to the audit, 180 patients have waited 90 days or more for an initial medical appointment at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, and roughly 7,000 have requested an appointment in the last 10 years, though have not yet had one scheduled.As heard on the radio

The findings also show a wide disparity between wait times for new and established patients at the Atlanta facility.  On average, new patients wait 64 days to see a primary care doctor – more than four times the VA’s stated goal of scheduling an appointment within 14 days. For specialty care and mental health appointments, the wait time was 53 days and 27 days, respectively.

Conversely, average wait times for established patients was less than a week.

The findings were part of a national audit of 731 VA facilities, ordered amid a growing number of reports of delayed access to care and unofficial wait lists to mask those waits.

In all, about 57,000 patients nationwide have passed the three-month mark for an initial medical appointment.

Of the facilities reviewed, the Atlanta VA was one of 81 facilities that require further review as part of a process to root out willful misconduct.” VA centers in Augusta, Dublin, Savannah and Smyrna were also singled out.

The audit doesn’t specify what – if any – misconduct occurred at each of the flagged facilities. However, the audit did find widespread accounts of manipulation of appointment scheduling times.  

Overall, the report found 13 percent of scheduling staff interviewed said they were told to falsify appointment requests in the scheduling system to make wait times appear shorter. Eight percent said they used alternatives to the official Electronic Wait List, some of whom said they were pressured to use unofficial lists.

In a statement, the Atlanta VA said the current wait time is quote “unacceptable.”

In response, the Atlanta VA says it’s increasing the number of available appointments, offering Saturday clinics and hiring new staff as needed.