In light of the recent scandal involving false record-keeping and long wait lists at VA hospitals in other parts of the country, the Palo Alto VA is making efforts to encourage open dialogue about its stance on the issue, including a meeting this Thursday with local elected officials.
The meeting, though not open to the public, is an effort to put Palo Alto ahead of the curve in the Veterans Affair controversy, spokesman Michael Hill-Jackson said.
"A lot of vets are concerned, of course, but not all VA's are the same," he said. "That's the message were trying to get out there: 'If you're in Palo Alto, you're OK.'"
A 35-page independent report conducted by the VA's inspector general released May 28 found that 1,700 veterans using a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial, secret wait lists, a practice that helped staff hoping to cover up delays in treatment of patients. The report drew from reports of 226 veterans who had sought appointments at the hospital in 2013, finding that 84 percent had to wait more than two weeks to be seen. At least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments in Phoenix, according to CNN.
Though the report focused on evidence from the Phoenix hospital, it called the practices a "systemic problem nationwide." Similar allegations have emerged at other VA hospitals across the country, with 42 centers now under investigation for falsifying wait records.
As of April, the Palo Alto VA is four days shy of the 14-day national metric for new patients seeking primary care, with an 18-day average, Hill-Jackson said. For mental health patients, the average wait in Palo Alto is one week. Hill-Jackson said these numbers are updated on a monthly basis.
For established patients, Palo Alto accommodates appointments within five to six days, Hill-Jackson said -- though wait-time count for new patients starts from the date the scheduler makes the appointment, while the wait-time count for established patients starts from the date for which the patient requests the appointment.
U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, condemned what she called "longstanding and widespread" failure within the Veterans Administration but said the Palo Alto VA's high level of service and access should serve as an example for the agency moving forward.
"This longstanding and widespread failure is inexcusable, and, in response, I've voted for legislation in the House to address the mismanagement at the Veterans Administration -- to bring about accountability, transparency, and right this listing ship," she wrote in an email.
"I will also look to our own VA hospitals in the 18th Congressional District to lead by example. ... Veterans surveyed on their satisfaction with the Palo Alto VA consistently score it above the national average for all VA medical centers and in the top 25 percent in the region for access to outpatient care. More VA systems should be striving for this level of excellence."
A staff member from Eshoo's office will attend the Thursday meeting in Palo Alto.
The VA Palo Alto Health Care System consists of three inpatient facilities located at Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Livermore, plus seven outpatient clinics in San Jose, Fremont, Capitola, Monterey, Stockton, Modesto and Sonora.