A growing number of veterans have sought care at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center over the past few years, pointing to part of the reason that new patients wait an average of 44 days to see a primary care provider at the facility, leaders said Tuesday.
Leaders from the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center called a news conference Tuesday to address concerns related to an audit that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released Monday that focused on wait times in VA facilities across the U.S.
The audit showed that new patients seeking primary care waited an average of 44 days for appointments, with new patients seeking specialty care and mental health care at the OKC VA facing similar delays.
Dr. Mark Huycke, the OKC VA chief of staff, told a group of reporters that the VA has seen clear-cut growth in its patient population, pointing to part of the reason for the delays in care found in the audit.
“We work to keep up with that demand for services, but it’s a constant struggle to add providers, find additional space, (and) hire support staff in order to maintain access to those services, so we’re constantly working on this, but as we grow, we have to keep adding and adding,” Huycke said.
More than an estimated 58,000 patients will seek care during the 2014 fiscal year at either the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center or other veterans health centers within the Oklahoma City VA network, which includes facilities across western Oklahoma and two counties in north Texas, according to data released Tuesday.
That’s an increase from the 2011 fiscal year when about 54,000 patients sought care through that network.
VA leaders also project about 529,000 outpatient visits during the 2014 fiscal year, up from about 476,000 in the 2011 fiscal year.
Daniel Marsh, the Oklahoma VA Medical Center director, said the OKC VA has continued to see budget increases over the past few years, but they face a shortage of providers because of a jobs market that sends more doctors heading to OU Medical Center and other hospitals in the OKC metro.
A physician at the OKC VA has a patient panel size of about 1,200 patients, which that physician treats alongside two licensed practical nurses and one registered nurse, Marsh said.
“Some folks, of course, go where the pay is,” Marsh said.
Marsh said the audit released Monday showed a snapshot of data taken on May 15.
For example, the audit found that at the OKC VA, 95 percent of 37,270 appointments were scheduled in 30 days or less.
Five percent of patients waited more than 30 days for an appointment at the OKC VA, which was a higher percentage than about 95 VA facilities included in the data and lower than about 30 facilities.
Those numbers can change in minutes, Marsh said, adding that he wasn’t implying the audit was inaccurate.
“You can go back and look and pull data today, and it’s obviously going to be different,” Marsh said. “There will be no two days, probably no two 10-minute periods, where the data will stay the same.”