Local VA Hospital Affected By Phoenix Investigation

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The Chillicothe hospital — which serves Athens County veterans — will undergo an audit of its facility as part of a nationwide audit ordered by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Shinseki ordered the audit of access to care after allegations that patients at the Phoenix VA hospital had died because of delays in care and a “secret” list of patients still awaiting service, according to reports by the Associated Press.

“If the VA Office of Inspector General’s investigation substantiates allegations of employee misconduct, we are confident that swift and appropriate action will be taken,” said Stacia Ruby, public affairs officer for the Chillicothe VA Medical Center, in an email to the Messenger.

Federal officials said that the “secret” list could have been an “interim list” created by the Phoenix hospital and Shinseki said the list may have been for “reference purposes,” the Associated Press reported.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a news conference there was a “systemic management issue throughout the VA that needs to be addressed.”

The Chillicothe medical center will have their facility audited as part of the investigation and they expect that all areas will be checked to make sure standards are being followed, according to Ruby.

“We anticipate a review team will be at our facility…next week,” Ruby said. “This team will focus (on) assessing that all of us, from front line staff all through to the executive team, have a full understanding of VA’s national scheduling policy and that we are following these policies across all clinic operations.”

The procedure at the Chillicothe facility is to monitor requests for appointments on a daily basis and to adjust resources where possible “to meet care requests on a timely basis,” Ruby said.

Recently the medical center has expanded clinic hours, added Saturday clinics and scheduled veterans to go to another medical center or clinic if possible, according to Ruby. It has also paid for private care when needed, she said. An urgent care clinic is also provided 24 hours, seven days a week.

During Fiscal Year 2013, the Chillicothe medical center served almost 22,000 veterans, according to statistics kept at the facility, and 2,300 were seen at the Athens Community Based Outpatient Clinic. The Athens facility has the capacity to serve another 350 veterans, Ruby said.

“We have the capacity to see more veterans in…Athens,” Ruby said. “In most cases we are able to see new patients within 30 days.”

Veterans with primary care appointments that are not urgent are seen at the Athens facility “within a week of their request 90 percent of the time,” according to Ruby.