- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Providence VA Medical Center has one of the longest average wait times for patients seeking their first primary care appointment, a nationwide look at the VA network release Monday found.

New patients wait about 74 days on average for a primary care appointment with the Providence VA, according to results from the audit. Only seven facilities nationwide had longer average waits, with Honolulu topping the list at 145 days.

The average wait time for the Providence VA system is high for the system because of “a sharp increase in new patients seeking care” at an outpatient clinic in Hyannis, Massachusetts, that’s part of the system, said Leslie Pierson, spokeswoman for the Providence VA. Staff there retired and the clinic reached 168 percent of its capacity, she added.

Nationally, the audit examined 731 VA hospitals and outpatient clinics and found more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments. The findings come in the wake of reports that surfaced two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center.

Providence was not listed among the sites in need of further review.

John Cesana, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Rhode Island, said he was surprised to learn of the long wait times for the Providence VA. Having spoken with patients and staff there, Cesana said he thought they were doing “a really good job.” He said he plans to look into the situation.

The Providence VA is adding a primary care team at the Hyannis clinic and at the Providence medical center to see more patients, Pierson said. All of the patients who have been waiting 90 days or more were contacted and will be seen by the end of June, she added.

“It’s an isolated issue that we were addressing,” Pierson said. “We knew this before all of the issues that came out in Phoenix, and we were working on it before then as well.”

New patients in Providence waited an average of 34 days to see a specialist, which was among the lowest of the average wait times nationwide.

The data was derived from a one-day snapshot, on May 15. The audit showed 33,570 people scheduled appointments with the Providence VA within two weeks; 1,342 people waited 15 to 30 days for an appointment; 643 waited 31 to 60 days; 162 waited 61 to 90 days; 82 waited 91 to 120 days; and 31 waited more than 120 days.

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