At least 1,700 veterans were kept off of waiting lists at the Phoenix Health Care System, a preliminary report from the Veterans Affairs Department's inspector general confirmed Wednesday.
"While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at [the Phoenix] medical facility," acting Inspector General Robert Griffin wrote in the new report.
And the issues there are not unique. "We are finding that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide," he wrote.
Using a sample of 226 veterans at the Phoenix facilities, Griffin's team found that veterans waited 115 days on average before receiving their first primary care appointment, far more than the 14 days recommended by the Veterans Affairs Department. Phoenix had reported its average wait was 24 days. Of those same veterans, 85 percent of them waited more than 14 days on average to receive care, while Phoenix officials reported that just 43 percent of veterans waited that long.
The Inspector General's Office found that schedulers were pressured by their superiors to alter waiting times, which are factored into staff members' bonuses and salary raises. In some cases, schedulers would change a veteran's requested appointment date to the next date the facility had available, resulting in a zero-day wait time.
In addition to the waiting-list delays, Griffin said that his office received "numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers" at the Phoenix Health Care System.
The review did not include, however, the results of the investigation into whether any of the waiting-list issues resulted in deaths, as has been reported by several media outlets. That will be included in the office's final report which is due out in June.
In the interim, Griffin reported that his office has deployed "rapid response teams" that are visiting VA facilities without warning staff in order to investigate issues nationwide. So far, he wrote, they have visited or scheduled visits at 42 facilities across the country.
Griffin's team also sent a series of recommendations to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, focusing in particular on getting the 1,700 veterans who have been waiting for care into a VA facility as quickly as possible.