August 11, 2014, Phoenix, AZ – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald today announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has initiated an independent, nation-wide review of all scheduling practices at VA medical facilities. In his first trip as Secretary, McDonald also announced a series of additional actions to improve veterans’ access to timely, quality health care following a series of meetings with veterans and employees at the Phoenix VA Health Care System (VAHCS).
“VA is committed to instilling integrity into our scheduling practices to deliver the timely care that veterans deserve,” said Secretary McDonald. “It 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.”
Secretary McDonald announced that every VA medical center will undergo an independent review of scheduling and access practices beginning this Fall. The Joint Commission is the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. While touring the VAHCS, Secretary McDonald also received a demonstration of current scheduling practices.
“I’ve pledged to our nation’s veterans to honor the President’s charge to transform the Department and put the veteran at the center of everything we do,” McDonald added. “We will continue to take a series of actions that will enable us to improve veterans’ access to timely care here in Phoenix and across the country. I want to continue to hear from veterans and VA employees directly to improve VA business operations to serve veterans more efficiently and effectively.”
Additionally, Secretary McDonald outlined actions VA will take in the coming weeks and months to accelerate access to care for veterans:
· To ensure the presence and alignment of the proper elements needed for an ethical culture, VA will conduct a holistic review that results in actionable initiatives to ensure a strong ethical environment across our healthcare system.
· Require all VA medical center directors to notify the Under Secretary for Health if access or quality-of-care standards are not being met.
· Review all senior leader performance plans in the Veterans Health Administration to better align with VA’s strategic plan and the outcomes that matter most – satisfied veterans.
· Review VA’s employee performance goals to ensure they are focused on providing timely quality care.
· Require medical center directors to ensure that all VA staff with scheduling privileges complete the mandatory scheduler training in compliance with VA’s scheduling directive, as they are doing in Phoenix.
In addition to the system-wide actions taken in response to VA’s nation-wide access audit findings, McDonald outlined actions taken to accelerate access to care for Veterans at the Phoenix VAHCS:
· Since May 15, more than 3,000 appointments have been scheduled in Phoenix.
· Phoenix VAHCS is increasing the use of established national contracts with community partners to schedule Veterans waiting to be seen by a provider. Since May 15, over 6,500 Veterans have received more than 8,000 referrals to community providers when it was determined the care was unavailable at VA due to a lack of capacity or longer-than-desirable wait times.
· The Phoenix VAHCS has increased capacity by expanding the hours of operation, making more primary care, mental health and other specialty care appointments available.
· Phoenix VAHCS is also addressing the underlying issues that have impeded veterans’ access to care, mainly space and staffing. Additional temporary clinic space was made available through Mobile Medical Units brought in from Cheyenne, Wyoming; Big Spring, Texas; and Jackson, Mississippi.
· Phoenix VAHCS is aggressively hiring more staff. All services – Physicians, Nursing and Clerks – have increased staffing in the clinics and Community Based Outpatient Clinics.
On August 5, VA Secretary McDonald directed all VA health care and benefits facilities to hold town-hall events by the end of September to improve communication with, and hear directly from, veterans nation-wide.