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IG Report Shows Scheduling Problems Did Occur At White River Junction VA

White River Junction VA Medical Center
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
White River Junction VA Medical Center

Two years ago, a scandal erupted at VA Medical Centers across the country.  The hospitals had shifted record keeping regarding wait times to indicate “short” or “none” when veterans actually waited months or years for their appointments.  While it appeared at the time that the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont was not a part of the controversy, it now appears that schedulers there were also adjusting wait times.
The Valley News is reporting that an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General shows that schedulers at the White River Junction facility had been adjusting schedules to create zero-day wait times.

Reporter Rick Jurgens has been covering the medical center since the controversy first erupted in 2014.  He says it appears that as the scandal unfolded at a Phoenix facility, it prompted employees at White River to approach their director to report concerns about how they were recording appointments.  “The director referred it to the Inspector General, so this is back of middle of 2014. Then we reported that investigators had come to the VA during the middle of 2014. The report was submitted to the VA in the end of 2014 and it was just released to the public at the beginning of this month – April 4.  And the timing was explained by the VA the Inspector General’s reports were made public at a time where the quote ‘it would not impede any planned prosecutive or administrative action.’”

Jurgens calls the report the most detailed disclosure and analysis of what has happened at White River Junction’s VA hospital.   “Looks like there were some issues in terms of veterans waiting for care.  In some ways it’s a very narrow report. It says were the data on delays being manipulated? Yes.  It presents a fair amount of evidence that it was happening at White River Junction. Was that directly harming veterans?  They say no.  You have to pay attention. It says was it a direct harm? Cancers were missed one doctor alleged. And so how often did that happen?  Why did that happen?  All of those things remain as I read the Inspector General’s report questions that have not yet been answered or documented.”

White River Junction Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center Public Affairs Officer Joe Anglin says they have strong confidence that current scheduling reflects accurate wait times.   “This goes back more than two years ago now.  Basically what happened is employees felt comfortable, which you know to give the director credit at the time created an atmosphere that welcomed employees to come forward.  And what they reported to the director, the director immediately then called for an internal investigation. She called for the investigation because she needed to know exactly what was going on because this is important to us so she self-reported basically.”

Anglin notes that the Inspector General’s findings were known by officials at the medical center two years ago and changes have already been made.   “What we ended up doing as a result of the findings is we streamlined the supervisory process and brought all the schedulers under one roof. So we could then monitor and manage the consistency of training, because that’s one of the key factors we found is some schedulers actually thought they were doing things correctly when they were doing things incorrectly.  And we did change our training modules. We then increased our supervision.  So we have a number of protocols in place to constantly check on this training and on the actual practices so we know that we’re getting good data.”

Update 4-13-16:

Joe Anglin returned a call to WAMC following broadcast seeking clarification.  He noted that the Inspector General found no evidence of deaths due to wait times at the White River Junction facility.  Anglin also commented on a statement made by Valley News reporter Rick Jurgens: “Cancers were missed, one doctor alleged.”  The report did not cite which cancers were of concern but Anglin says it refers to a dermatologist’s comments that short exam times do not allow for full body exams.  That could mean that some chronic basal and squamous cell cancers are missed when frozen off and must be treated at the veteran’s next appointment.

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