The top Department of Veterans Affairs watchdog is set to release dozens of reports on manipulated wait times at medical centers across the country. The evidence from 11 reports on Florida provided Monday indicates that employees were expected to “game” wait times.
Florida facilities, according to the investigation, suffer from falsified wait times and long wait times for appointments.
Nine facilities had serious problems.
In Miami, investigators discovered that schedulers broke regulations to meet the goal of putting veterans in front of doctors within 14 days. They accomplished this by using the next available clinic date instead of the date desired by the veteran, which is a violation of Veterans Health Administration Directive 2010-027.
At the facility in Gainesville, two employees were caught relying on the same trick: using the next available date as the desired date, rather than what the veteran said was the actual desired date. One of the employees told investigators that he only stopped treating the next available date as the desired date a week before he was interviewed. He mentioned that he engaged in this practice because he was trained that way and said that the practice abruptly shifted a week before investigators interviewed him likely because supervisors were trying to cover up manipulations.
A second employee recounted how management suggested for her to hush up about previous scheduling practices.
“When asked if management ever directed her to lie concerning how the clerks scheduled prior to April/May, and, if the clerks were asked, to state that they had always scheduled patients the new way, she said that management alluded to the fact they wished her to go along with the story that the new method had been the normal course of business all along,” an IG report said. “During this interview, MSA 15 commented on how management had asked her to change how she scheduled patients on multiple occasions over the past few years.”
In Bay Pines, a scheduler confirmed a practice of entering available appointments as desired dates in the scheduling systems.
In West Palm Beach, employees selected randomly said that the purpose behind equivocating the next available appointment with the desired date was to “game the 14-day desire date policy.” These employees further said that this is a regular practice at the West Palm Beach facility. Investigators confirmed through a review of records over the period of October 2012 to June 2014 that this process was endemic.
The 14-day policy came into play in 2010 when former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki tried to reduce wait times. That policy set off the waitlist scandal in Phoenix and resulted in Shinseki losing his job, mostly because it put additional pressure on a fragile system, which prompted management and employees to game the waitlist system.
“These reports reveal a consistent pattern of incompetence, at best, and deliberate intent to manipulate wait times, at worst,” John Cooper, press secretary for Concerned Veterans for America, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “What’s more, the VA has refused to be forthcoming about what it has done to hold the employees involved accountable.”
“The clear lesson to be drawn from these reports is that veterans deserve choice in determining their health care,” Cooper added. “They should not be forced to use a system characterized by fraud and manipulation, nor made to wonder if their needs will take a back seat to bureaucratic gamesmanship.”
In total, 77 investigative reports will be released on nation-wide facilities over the course of a few months.
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