OKLA. CITY —
“We have nothing to hide,” Oklahoma City VA Medical Center Director Daniel Marsh told reporters during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
Earlier this year, after allegations were reported to the VA office of inspector general’s hotline, the office affirmed that about 1,700 patients at the Phoenix VA hospital were not put on any existing wait list and faced treatment delays of up to 115 days.
In late April, the Office of Inspector General assembled a multi-disciplinary team to address numerous allegations at Phoenix and other VA medical facilities, acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin said during Monday’s congressional hearing. Due to the number of issues, the OIG is conducting a comprehensive review requiring an in-depth examination of records and personnel.
Since the Phoenix VA story broke, the OIG received allegations of similar issues regarding manipulated wait times at other Veteran Health Administration medical facilities through various channels, Griffin said.
In response, the OIG has opened reviews at other Veteran Health Administration medical facilities to determine whether scheduling practices were in use that did not comply with scheduling policies and procedures, Griffin said.
Tuesday’s press conference in Oklahoma City occurred a day after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released results from a nationwide access audit, which found that new patients at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center waited an average of 44 days for primary care.
Marsh told reporters scheduling audits here have revealed no findings.
“Our mission is very simple,” Marsh said. “We honor America’s veterans by providing exceptional health care that improves their health and their well-being. That’s our only mission.”
Marsh said the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center serves the western two thirds of Oklahoma and two counties in north Texas where the Wichita Falls clinic is based. It receives referrals from Muskogee, Fayetteville, Ark., and other parts of the VA occasionally.
The local VA has an annex clinic on North May Avenue and is looking to expand into the south part of Oklahoma City, where the agency is working with property owners to acquire necessary property, Marsh said. The local VA has eight community-based outpatient clinics, two veterans centers — one in Oklahoma City and one in Lawton.
“Any veteran has the ability to go anywhere in the United States and get care,” Marsh said. “Our electronic health record gives everybody access to their health record regardless of where they are so that we can ensure the highest quality of care and continuity of care as well.”
Marsh said evidence as to the quality of care in Oklahoma City includes recent growth. In fiscal year 2014, leaders are expecting to see well over 58,000 unique veterans, patients seen at least 15 times in a given year, Marsh said.
The trend in health care across the nation is to minimize in-patient stays, Marsh said. Oklahoma City has been working to improve disease prevention and management and keeping patients out of the hospital when it’s appropriate, Marsh said.
Marsh said the local VA medical center is managing as many patients as possible in an ambulatory care setting, in a home-based primary care setting and in some cases in a tele-health setting minimizing patient travel time.
The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center offers services ranging from primary care to neurosurgery. Its total bed capacity is 192. Overall, the facility enrolls about 20-50 veterans on a daily basis. Staff are constantly rescheduling visits. And outpatient visits continue to rise.
Oklahoma City VA Medical Center Chief of Staff Mark Huycke said the facility strives to provide personalized, proactive patient-driven health care. Huycke said the VA is undergoing changes toward a model reducing the number of face-to-face visits.
Marsh said challenges include a recent federal pay freeze and competing with private sector salaries.
Nationwide on May 15 the Veterans Health Administration had more than 6 million appointments scheduled across the system. About 57,436 veterans were waiting to be scheduled for care. Another 63,869 who had enrolled in the system during the past 10 years had not been seen for an appointment. The VA was working to contact these veterans.
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