An internal audit released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs on its health care facilities found that in Anchorage 99 percent of veterans could schedule appointments within 30 days, a wait time better than that at many facilities across the country.
Eric Shinseki, former secretary of the VA, had ordered the nationwide audit before he resigned in May, embroiled in scandal over mismanaged facilities and hidden wait lists. Federal investigators flagged 112 veterans health care sites in the audit because of concerns about scheduling practices. The Alaska VA Healthcare System in Anchorage was not one of them.
"We are very pleased with the audit's findings, showing that Alaska VA utilizes appropriate scheduling practices," Greg Puckett, associate director of the Alaska VA Healthcare System, wrote in an email. "We are proud of the hard work and dedication of our employees providing care to veterans."
Audit teams visited 731 health care providers between May 12 and June 3. On May 15 in Anchorage, there were 6,261 appointments scheduled. All but 78 of those were scheduled within 30 days. Thirty-eight veterans sat on an electronic waiting list. A new patient had to wait about 29 days to see a primary care provider in Anchorage and established patients waited about one day, said the audit.
Nationwide, there were more than 6 million appointments scheduled on May 15 with more than 57,000 veterans waiting to make health care appointments. New patients in Bedford, Mass., had the shortest wait time for primary care at 12 days. The longest wait time was 145 days in Honolulu, Hawaii, the audit said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote in a statement on her website that the audit's findings about Anchorage were "encouraging" but represent only a snapshot of time after the city's outpatient clinic took a number of measures to remedy a backlog.
Just last year the inundated Alaska VA Healthcare System had a wait list of nearly 900 veterans. Then it began partnering with local medical providers, paying them for care of veterans. Most recently, it partnered with Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center in March with plans to send over nearly 2,000 veterans.
"Not only must we maintain those positive response times, we must make sure that our day-in, day-out commitment to those who served is achieved and sustained across our state at both major facilities and the community based outpatient clinics," Murkowski wrote.
Sen. Mark Begich said in a prepared statement that it took a lot of "hard work" to get the Alaska VA Healthcare System to where it is now.
"While there is still work to do, today's numbers reflect great improvement in the performance of the AK VA in recent years and point to Alaska as a model for successful programs that can be implemented in other states," Begich wrote.
Reach Tegan Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By TEGAN HANLON