- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

A home to U.S. naval power, the Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia also ranks among the worst places for a vet to get a timely appointment to see a Veterans Affairs doctor.

Out of all VA medical centers nationwide, the hospital in Hampton had the fourth-highest percentage of waits topping 30 days. More than 7.3 percent of the 151,300 appointments completed at the medical center between Sept. 1 and Feb. 28 failed to meet the VA’s timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen in 30 days or less.

Things were worse at the hospital’s outpatient clinic in Virginia Beach, where 18.3 percent of patient visits involved a wait of longer than 30 days. That’s the second-worst worst timelines rate in the country at any VA outpatient clinic, although things have improved over the past few months. The clinic completed nearly 89 percent of its visits in a timely fashion in February, compared to 76 percent six months earlier.

The AP examined waiting times at 940 VA hospitals and clinics to see how things might have improved since a scandal over delays and attempts to cover them up led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and prompted lawmakers in August to pass the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.

That legislation gave the VA an extra $16.3 billion to shorten long waits for care.

From September through February, more than 23,300 of almost 622,000 medical appointments at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in Virginia failed to meet the health system’s timeliness goal. The numbers include three VA medical centers and 14 outpatient centers in the state.

Many of those delays were concentrated in the southeastern corner of the state.

The VA hospitals in Richmond and Salem were below the national average of 2.8 percent of appointments that involved a delay in care of at least 31 days.

Along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, the Hampton hospital system is situated in one of the biggest - and growing - geographical clusters of active duty and retired military people. The medical center has seen a 30.5 percent growth in patients over the last five years, four times the national average, said Hampton VA Medical Center spokesman Daniel Henry.

Hampton has responded by recruiting more primary care providers and planning expansions, Henry said.

Steven Williams, a 59-year-old Virginia Beach resident and U.S. Navy veteran of the Gulf War, said it took from August until January to get a basic primary care visit at the Virginia Beach clinic.

“The medical care, once you get in to see them, is excellent,” Williams said. “But getting in there - ooh, that’s hard.”

Part of that backlog will be addressed by a new 10,000-square foot outpatient clinic in the Chesapeake or Virginia Beach area, slated to open in August and support 6,000 veterans, Henry said.

About a month ago, the Hampton hospital also converted 12,000 square feet of administrative office space into a primary care clinic. Since December, seven new primary care providers have come on board, which has provided some wait-time improvements, Henry said.

Those are stopgaps until the hospital system can open a new, 155,000 square-foot health-care center near Chesapeake or Virginia Beach, now slated for 2020, depending on a steady budget, Henry said.

“We’ve been looking at things, long-term, to manage the growth,” Henry said. “And that (health-care center) will have the biggest impact.”


AP writer David B. Caruso contributed to this report from New York.



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