Some 1,700 veterans waiting for an appointment at Veteran Affairs clinics across Phoenix, Ariz. were nowhere to be found in the system’s official wait list, federal investigators reported on Wednesday.
Investigators for the Veteran Affairs Office of Inspector General said they had found initial evidence of “inappropriate scheduling practices” in the Phoenix Health Care System, which had led to “significant delays in access to care.”
Although data reported by Phoenix authorities suggested a statistical sample of 226 veterans waited an average of 24 days for their first primary care appointment, the review found that those 226 veterans actually waited on average 115 days to receive a primary care appointment. Only 16 percent got an appointment in 14 days or less, according to the interim report.
Acting inspector general Richard Griffin confirmed in the report that the omission of so many names from Phoenix’s official wait list meant that leaders greatly understated the time patients were likely to wait for their primary care appointment.
Whistleblowers have accused the Phoenix staff of deliberately omitting patients from wait lists and putting them on “secret lists”, delaying urgent treatments that could have saved several veterans’ lives. The report concedes that a “convoluted scheduling process” led to multiple lists of veterans that might explain the allegations of “secret lists,” and said it would review death certificates, medical records and autopsy results to determine whether any veterans had died while waiting for care.
Allegations of delayed care and “secret” wait lists have led to calls for Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki’s resignation and prompted a sweeping investigation of Veteran Affairs facilities across the country. Shinseki called the interim report’s findings “reprehensible” and pledged swift action, but the head of the House Veterans Affairs Committee issued a fresh call for his resignation after the report’s release.
Investigators cautioned that the preliminary findings had not established intent behind the missing names, nor had they proven that the absence of names led to actual delays in treatment. They also noted that Phoenix was not alone in its administrative troubles, adding that a nationwide review of medical facilities “confirmed that inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout VHA.”
The report’s authors also said the Inspector General’s office had received “numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers at this facility,” that would merit further investigation.
Investigators said they would continue to comb through 550,000 emails and documents obtained from the clinic and interview staffers ranging from clerks to senior managers, before drawing any conclusions about the allegations.