VA scandal grows wider in Kansas

6/6/2014

By Alan Bavley

By Alan Bavley

The Kansas City Star

(MCT) — VA health care facilities in the Kansas City area and Wichita have become part of a widening investigation into patient waiting lists by the Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general, Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said Wednesday.

A Kansas City area primary care clinic was among the VA health facilities keeping veterans on unofficial "secret" patient lists that could leave them stranded without medical care.

The unnamed clinic, apparently one of seven associated with the Kansas City VA Medical Center, had about 30 veterans on its unofficial list. All the patients have been scheduled to be seen within the next two weeks, and none has been harmed by delays in their care, the regional VA office in Kansas City told Moran's staffers.

The Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita also kept a "secret" patient list. A recent review by the hospital of 385 patient records found 14 patients who had not received care. All have been scheduled for appointments, hospital director Francisco Vazquez told Moran's office.

The new information is an early glimpse at the extent of a VA scandal that has been growing since revelations earlier this year that the Phoenix VA Health Care System placed veterans on secret waiting lists rather than enter them into the official computerized scheduling system. Some veterans allegedly died while waiting for care.

An onslaught of criticism, much of it leveled by Republicans in Congress, forced the resignation Friday of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

"There was just no leadership at the VA. Now we're seeing the results," Moran, who had called for Shinseki's resignation, said in an interview Wednesday.

He said his office had been receiving numerous complaints about the VA long before the scandal broke.

"What's really caught my attention in the past year or so — it really seemed people were giving up hope," Moran said. "The VA didn't seem willing to care for us."

An investigation by the VA's inspector general's office released last week found that 1,700 of the 3,100 veterans waiting for a primary care appointment with the Phoenix system had not been entered into the official electronic waiting list, leaving them in jeopardy of being lost or forgotten in the scheduling process.

The investigation, which now encompasses health care facilities nationwide, is finding "manipulation of VA data that distort the legitimacy of reported waiting times," the inspector general's report said. Raises and bonuses of VA administrators are often tied to short waiting times.

"We are finding that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem," the inspector general said.

Information about the secret waiting lists in Wichita and the Kansas City area came in reports and emails sent to Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts by the Wichita VA hospital and the VA's regional office in Kansas City. The senators had requested data on waiting times at regional VA health care facilities.

Moran said he shared the reports with the VA inspector general's office and was told Wednesday that the inspector general would be investigating the information.

The reports detailed the extent that unauthorized patient lists were being used in the VA's Heartland Network, which is based in Kansas City and includes nine hospitals and dozens of outpatient clinics in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas.

Hospital directors reported 10 such lists. Eight of the lists were used to augment official patient lists. But two lists, one at the Wichita VA hospital and another at the Kansas City-area clinic, placed veterans "at risk of being 'dropped' in our scheduling practices," one report said.

Michael Moore, the Kansas City VA Medical Center's assistant director, declined to comment on the "at risk" list associated with the hospital.

Separately, according to the reports, as of May 28 about 100 veterans had been waiting more than 90 days for primary care throughout the Heartland Network.

Twelve of those veterans were at the Kansas City VA Medical Center or the clinics it manages. Most of those waits were caused by scheduling errors.

In some cases, patients were waiting to receive acupuncture and may have received it from practitioners outside the VA system, Moore said.

"We currently have no patients waiting for primary care," he said. "The goal is same-day service, if needed."

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