- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Veterans Administration officials in Delaware say they have taken steps to address long wait times for medical care at the VA clinic in Sussex County, which has had some of the worst rankings in the entire country for long wait times.

The Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Georgetown ranked 11th among more than 900 VA hospitals and outpatient clinics nationwide in the percentage of completed appointments from September to February that failed to meet the health system’s timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days, according to government data reviewed by The Associated Press.

During that time, 10.4 percent of 5,479 completed appointments in Georgetown involved a wait time of at least 31 days, compared to a national average of about 2.8 percent. The 4.4 percent figure for 69,038 completed appointments at the main VA hospital in Elsmere also was above the national average. The Kent County outpatient clinic in Dover and the mobile clinic in Wilmington were both below the national average, at 2.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, according to VA data.

For February, the Sussex clinic ranked among the 10 worst VA facilities in the nation for the percentage of wait times exceeding 31 days, at 12.3 percent. That figure was an improvement over January, when Georgetown’s 17.7 percentage was fourth-highest in the country.

Meanwhile, VA statistics show that average wait times for primary care appointments at the Sussex County facility were the highest in the country from November through January. The clinic’s average wait for a primary care appointment in January was 35 days, compared to a national average of 4.74 days.

“They don’t have enough personnel down there to serve the veterans …. They need more people to work there. They need more doctors and nurses,” said Bob Corsa, a Marine combat veteran of Vietnam and member of the state Commission of Veterans Affairs.

VA officials say they’re on top of the issue.

“We fully anticipate that when you look at completed appointments when the April data is published that we will be back on target,” said Robin C. Aube-Warren, medical center director in charge of the Elsmere hospital and outpatient clinics in Delaware and southern New Jersey.

Aube-Warren said VA officials look at wait times every week, and noticed a worrisome trend in Sussex County last year. In response, officials hired a part-time primary care provider for Sussex County last fall. They also have had to replace a psychiatrist and a behavioral health specialist out on extended sick leave, Aube-Warren said.

“What you’re seeing now is what we had already identified and took corrective action on,” said Aube-Warren, who noted that the population of veterans in the area has increased, with an 11 percent enrollment growth in Sussex County from February 2013 to February 2014.

“We’ve actually been seeing a lot of military folks retiring to that area,” she said.

James Coty, a spokesman for the Wilmington VA Medical Center, said the Sussex outpatient facility’s currently primary care staff consists of 1.5 physician positions and two nurse practitioners. There are also one full-time psychiatrist, one full-time psychologist and three full-time social workers, two of whom split their time between Kent and Sussex counties.

Aube-Warren said she visited the Sussex facility in mid-March and received positive feedback from many veterans.

Rep. Earl Jacques Jr., D-Glasgow, chair of the House Veterans Affairs committee, said he has not heard any complaints regarding the Sussex facility, and that the feedback he’s heard about the Elsmere hospital is mostly positive.

“We’ve never heard about the clinics, not a one,” Jacques said.



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