North Hills VA wait times under review due to 'confusion' about scheduling

The VA conducted a national audit into how long veterans are waiting for appointments.
The VA conducted a national audit into how long veterans are waiting for appointments.
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The Veterans Administration flagged its North Hills ambulatory care center for further review of its scheduling practices due to "confusion" regarding its appointment system, according to a spokesman for the Greater Los Angeles VA.

North Hills is one of dozens of VA facilities that will be subject to further review following an intensive nationwide audit of appointment wait times.

Jeff Blake, spokesman for the Greater Los Angeles VA, did not explain the nature of the "confusion" surrounding North Hills' scheduling practices, but he said the national audit did not find any improper scheduling activities at the facility.

"The audits that came through the VA national audit didn’t find any evidence of anyone keeping paper data or another system off the books," he said.

The North Hills facility is one of a dozen that are part of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System,  which serves 86,000 veterans annually.

It’s unclear when the VA will conduct its more in-depth investigation.

"In the meantime what we are doing is improving our training, increasing our training for scheduling clerks and hiring additional clerk supervisors," Blake said. "We would certainly welcome additional reviews to see if there is anything more going on."

Even before the national audi, VA administrators in L.A. had already been working to improve access, Blake said, adding that some clinics are offering appointments on early weekday mornings and weekends.

The national audit was spurred by media reports that veterans in Phoenix were waiting so long for appointments that some of them died. It was later discovered that Phoenix staff were using alternative scheduling lists to hide how long veterans had been waiting for appointments.

 The audit found that more than 57,000 veterans had been waiting up to three months for an appointment. It also found that 4 percent of veterans who had asked for an appointment had to wait more than 30 days.  And it showed that 13 percent of schedulers surveyed said they were told to enter different dates into the system to report better response times.

At the Greater Los Angeles VA, the audit showed that 6 percent of veterans were seen more than 30 days after requesting an appointment – the average wait time for new patients was 56 days. 

This year the Greater Los Angeles VA is on track to see more than twice as many patients as last year, Blake said, attributing the increase to the number of returning veterans from Afghanistan and coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act.