Palo Alto VA positions itself within national scandal

Local hospital claims 18-day wait times for new patients seeking primary care

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.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by SteveH
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I am a patient at the Palo Alto VA Health Center, and from at least these "boots on the ground", I can confirm that Palo Alto is generally good with out-patient care, and outstanding with in-patient care.

It gets a bit longer to see specialists, Dermatology is an obvious example at about 2 months to get an appointment, but most others are much better.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2014 at 2:49 pm

A friend has been waiting for 2 1/2 years to get his knees fixed at the VA!
He is in constant pain and walks with great difficulty. When the weather is cold, hardly at all. He says he now has an advocate who talked to him last year. Not good enough! He is decorated Viet Nam vet with PTSD and a ruined body and nobody cares! He should be at least 80% Service Connected for disability benefits from the VA. How sad!!! When I have time to advocate for him they better duck!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Just goes to show
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm

That the govt. should stay out of any and all business. When govt. gets too big for it's britches corruption and waste is the only outcome.

Look at Kaiser, their doctors can see you whenever you want. If you have something that is bad, they will take care of it right away or as soon as their facility can handle you. If you need to contact your doctor, you can email them and they will respond back within the day. Now that is service.

The VA plays games buy having lists of people on the waiting game that gets them more money. It's a shame.

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Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

@Susan: Is this an issue specifically with the Palo Alto VA?

@Just: Really? Really? Have you even bothered to observe what happens in the private-sector healthcare system? Or are you that brainwashed?

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Great Auntie
a resident of Slater
on Jun 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm

While I am not eligible for VA care, I have several relatives who are and have been in the Palo Alto VA as both in-patients and out-patients. I agree with SteveH who said "Palo Alto is generally good with out-patient care, and outstanding with in-patient care." We should be very proud and thankful for this facility.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Army Vet
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm

VA Palo Alto is hit and miss. I had to wait 6-months for an MRI of my shattered ankle, and then another 2 months to get the film read. PAMF did it and read it the same day under my wife's coverage and came up with a completely different (and correct) diagnosis. The VA primarily serves the people who work at the VA. They tell you when your only appointment option day and time is. If you have a work schedule, good luck in getting an appointment that works. In fact, the VA would much rather develop in its patients a welfare mentality whereby you can't afford to work in order to receive it's substandard treatment. And good luck with parking. Plan on spending a whole day there for poor quality medical care. Everyone else, take a number and get ready for a long wait.

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