GILBERT, Ariz. (AP) - A new Phoenix-area clinic that is expected to serve thousands veterans opened Saturday as local VA officials face allegations of negligence.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' new "super clinic" in Gilbert launched earlier this month but had a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Arizona Republic reported (http://bit.ly/1iRJL29 ).
The event comes as the Phoenix VA Health Care System faces allegations that several patients died waiting for medical care.
According to a July email exchange obtained by the newspaper (http://bit.ly/1io5qu4), employees at Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix complained that officials were mischaracterizing data to claim they had successfully reduced wait times for patient appointments.
In an email, Damian Reese, a program analyst, said some veterans were waiting between six and 20 weeks to simply make an appointment.
Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman asked for an internal ethics review, according to the emails.
Helman told The Republic on Saturday that she was unaware of allegations involving veterans dying while awaiting care and manipulation of wait-time records until they were brought up in a congressional hearing this month.
"We're very transparent, and we have a program where, if there is found to be any harm, we bring the veteran in and/or the family members and we are responsible and take accountability for that," Helman said.
Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, announced plans Thursday for a hearing on the accusations of gross mismanagement and neglect. The hearing will follow an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General, Sanders said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs operates 18 outpatient clinics in Arizona along with three major hospitals in Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott.
The 60,000-square-foot outpatient facility in Gilbert took two years to build and fills a void left by a clinic at the former Williams Air Force Base in Mesa. It will keep patients in the suburbs east of Phoenix having to commute to central Phoenix, officials said.
Phoenix VA spokesman Scott McRoberts said veterans will receive primary and specialty care as well as dentistry and radiology services. There is also an on-site pharmacy and labs. Veterans will be able to take nutrition classes.
"We're excited about the potential to increase access for veterans with the increased size that this facility has," McRoberts said.
The agency is considering building two more clinics, but it has yet to settle on possible locations, he said.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com