VA medical facilities in Alabama miss timeliness goals

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – THE PROBLEM: Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics in some parts of the country are still struggling to reduce the amount of time patients have to wait for non-emergency care, according to a review by The Associated Press. Government data shows that veterans are more likely to get delayed care in the Southeast, including Alabama.

STATISTICS: The veterans hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama was built in 1923 to create a haven for black servicemen excluded from “whites only” medical facilities. From September to February, that facility and its sister medical center in nearby Montgomery, Alabama, struggled more than any other VA hospitals in the state to meet the department’s goals for timely access to care. About 9 percent of patient visits at the two hospitals involved a wait of longer than 30 days – sharply higher than the national average of 2.8 percent.

Waits in Birmingham and the northern half of the state were generally shorter than they were in the southern half. Nearly 7 percent of appointments were delayed more than 30 days at the VA clinic in Fort Rucker. In Tuscaloosa, the percentage stood at 1 percent.

Clinics in Jasper, Oxford, Sheffield, Bessemer, Gadsden, Childersburg, Monroeville and Guntersville saw less than 1 percent of appointments so delayed.

POTENTIAL FIXES: Dr. Srinivas Ginjupalli, who took over last year as acting chief of staff for the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System after the previous two top officials in the system were removed, cited a long list of things being done now to try and address long waits. Primary care teams in Montgomery are scheduled to move into a new 112,000-square-foot building by October, which he said would free up space to add other caregivers.

Ginjupalli said the hospital system has also stepped up efforts to recruit doctors, which he said was necessary because lots of physicians who have trained in cities are reluctant to take usually lower-paying positions in the rural South, especially in areas like Montgomery or the southern part of the state that aren’t close to a medical school.

“We are aggressively recruiting by all methods available,” he said.

Ginjupalli said he believes things have been improving, at least in Montgomery, and the VA’s statistics seem to confirm that: In September, nearly 13 percent of all patient visits at the hospital took longer than 30 days to complete. That had fallen to a little over 6 percent in February. That still places the hospital among the nation’s worst VAs, in terms of prompt access to care, but the number is a dramatic improvement.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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