- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Steady growth in the veterans’ population and other factors are driving up wait times at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, officials with the Department of Veteran Affairs said Tuesday.

Dr. Mark Huycke, chief of staff at the VA facility, said about 500 new veterans enroll to receive patient medical services at the facility each month and it has struggled to keep up with the growing caseload.

“We’ve had clear-cut growth over the last few years. It’s a constant struggle,” Huycke said. He said the veterans facility is working to increase its staff of doctors and other health care providers as well as facilities to keep pace.

“As we grow, we have to keep adding and adding,” Huycke said.

Officials discussed patient wait times a day after a federal audit revealed new patients seeking health care at the Oklahoma City veterans facility waited an average of 44 days for a primary care appointment. The report also found that new patients seeking specialty care had to wait about 48 days to be seen in Oklahoma City.

The same audit found that new patients seeking health care at a VA hospital in Muskogee waited an average of 31 days. Established patients at centers in both Oklahoma City and Muskogee had wait times averaging just over two days to be seen, according to the audit.

Daniel Marsh, director of the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, said veterans want to come to the Oklahoma City veterans system for treatment and that between 20 and 50 new veterans enroll every day seeking medical care.

“We take great pride in serving our fellow veterans,” said Marsh, himself a veteran. “We’re here to take care of veterans. Sometimes we make mistakes.”

Information provided by Veterans Affairs officials indicates that of 37,270 appointments made at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, 95 percent were scheduled in a month or less.

“We’re able to see established patients as medically appropriate,” Huycke said. “We compare favorably to the private sector.”

Wait-time figures for the veterans care centers in Oklahoma were generally better than VA facilities in other parts of the nation where there were longer wait times for new and established patients. But Marsh said officials in Oklahoma City are working to improve veterans’ access to health care and are planning an assessment of scheduling practices.

“Quite frankly, I welcome that review,” he said. “We have nothing to hide.”

Information provided by the veterans’ officials indicates that no appointment was scheduled for 170 newly enrolled veterans who requested an appointment during the enrollment process during the past 10 years.

The number includes duplicate veterans who may have made more than one request and veterans who could not be contacted later because they had moved or changed telephone numbers, officials said.



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