Veterans Affairs officials released more information Thursday revealing that a “secret” patient waiting list associated with the Kansas City VA Medical Center was kept at a hospital cardiology clinic.
The information comes as area senators press for more information about waiting lists at the hospitals and outpatient clinics managed by the VA’s Heartland Network, based in Kansas City. These unofficial lists may place veterans at risk of being forgotten or lost in the scheduling process.
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said Wednesday that the VA’s inspector general’s office was investigating waiting lists at health care facilities in the Heartland Network. The network includes seven medical centers and dozens of clinics in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas.
On Thursday, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri demanded specifics about a waiting list the network had said was at a clinic related to the Kansas City VA Medical Center. The medical center runs numerous clinics within the hospital and also manages seven outpatient clinics stretching from Cameron to Nevada, Mo.
Medical center officials told Blunt’s staff that the waiting list comprised 37 patients of the hospital’s cardiology clinic. The patients have all been scheduled to be seen and none had been harmed by waiting, the VA had said previously.
Last Friday, the director of the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita acknowledged that there had been a “secret” waiting list at his hospital.
The VA is embroiled in a widening scandal that began with the disclosure earlier this year that veterans seeking outpatient care at the Phoenix Health Care System were being placed on “secret” lists rather than being entered into the official electronic waiting list. The scandal forced the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last Friday.
Keeping patients off the official list can make waiting times appear shorter. Wait times are a factor in how bonuses and raises are determined. The VA inspector general has called inappropriate patient scheduling practices a systemic problem throughout the VA.
Spokesmen for the Kansas City VA Medical Center and the Heartland Network did not return calls Thursday from The Star. Instead, the hospital issued this statement:
“The Kansas City VA Medical Center is working with VA Central Office as they continue a nationwide audit to ensure a full understanding of VA’s scheduling policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care. We are also systematically reviewing capacity at the medical center and each of our community-based clinics in an effort to maximize our ability to provide veterans medical appointments when and in the manner they want them.”
The hospital also was authorized to increase referrals of veterans to non-VA health care providers if “we find situations where we are not able to increase capacity.”
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