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Vegas VA scheduling practices meet requirements

The VA’s Southern Nevada Healthcare System passed an unannounced review of its scheduling practices for timely care with flying colors, VA officials said Tuesday.

The independent review found “no deficiencies or recommendations for improvements and was in full compliance with VA guidance on scheduling and consult requirements,” according to a news release from Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Richard Beam.

The three-day “special focus” review in late November was part of VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s nationwide, independent test of how scheduling practices at VA facilities measure up to the commitment he announced in August to provide veterans with timely access to health care. The review was carried out by the Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting health care body.

“I am pleased that the VA’s audit of our (Southern Nevada Healthcare System) was positive and resulted in full accreditation for an additional 36 months,” U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said in the VA’s announcement. Titus is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

She said the staff of the Southern Nevada VA facilities, “47 percent of whom are veterans, have worked hard to improve access to and delivery of care.”

“I will continue to monitor the hospital’s progress and look forward to working with Director Isabel Duff in support of our shared mission of taking care of our vets,” Titus said.

McDonald took over the reins of the VA this year after his predecessor, Eric Shinseki, resigned amid allegations of shoddy health care practices and reports of unacceptable lag times in scheduling patients at the VA’s Phoenix facilities and elsewhere.

In some cases, two sets of books were kept, one for actual appointment times and another that reflected that appointments were kept within requirements. Those lists that falsely reflected compliance were submitted to the VA’s headquarters to justify bonuses for VA employees.

McDonald said, “It is is important that our scheduling practices be reviewed by a respected, independent source to help restore trust in our system, and I’m grateful to the Joint Commission for taking on this critical task.”

Bruce Brent, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, is one of many Las Vegas area veterans who have criticized the VA’s scheduling practices. He said he has made appointments three months in advance only to receive form letters on short notice to have appointments rescheduled.

“What a crock,” he said, reacting to Tuesday’s audit announcement. “The reason why I’m saying that is they’re not getting it right. It took me two months to get an eye appointment and that’s not within the guideline. Everything is still the same.”

Brent said he’s pleased with the care he receives from doctors and is glad the VA is contracting with private ophthalmologists to facilitate veterans’ appointments. “The doctors have been terrific. The problem is with not having enough doctors for VA patients.”

Duff acknowledged the doctor shortage in July, saying an effort is being made to bolster the medical staff through incentive hiring and the prospect of increasing residency training programs.

She noted that Nevada has been among the lowest-ranking states for the number of physicians relative to population. In July, Nevada ranked 46th for general and family practitioners, and 50th for psychiatrists.

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2

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