Paper: Email alerted VA leader of schedule concern

07/10/2014 10:39 AM

07/10/2014 3:16 PM

A newspaper reports that emails it obtained show the director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System learned of concerns about patient scheduling issues in April 2013 — more than eight months before action was taken.

Director James Talton told The Montgomery Advertiser (http://on.mgmadv.com/VPaPqX) that he was unable to take action on any "ambiguous statements" staff members emailed him about scheduling problems.

"If I'm going to take action or investigate something, there has to be something to chase," Talton said. "The numbers are wrong based on — what? They can be wrong for a variety of reasons. The schedulers need to be trained so the numbers appear accurately."

Talton said the first time he received anything he could take action on was in late December, when an employee showed him paper waiting lists that staff were using to keep track of patients seeking appointments.

Administrative action was taken against employees after an investigation in January and in some cases disciplinary action is still being handed down, he said.

A June audit by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General showed that employees in the central Alabama system had manipulated records to conceal long waiting periods for veterans seeking medical care. The long waits are linked to a shortage of providers — including doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants, Talton said.

An audit showed that even with manipulated records, the Central Alabama Veterans' Health Care system had the eight-longest wait time out of 141 nationwide.

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