New patients at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center waited an average of 44 days for a primary care appointment, according to an audit released Monday from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department.
Meanwhile, established patients had an average wait time of just over two days for primary care appointments.
These were among the findings released in an audit that the Veterans Affairs Department released Monday, outlining not only wait times and appointment delays but also how the administration will begin to roll out changes in the coming days to a stressed health system.
Wait-time figures for the Oklahoma City and Muskogee’s Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center Home were generally better than dozens of VA facilities in other parts of the U.S. where there were longer wait times for new and established patients, but officials said they are still working to improve veterans’ access to care.
Stacy Rine, spokeswoman at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, said hospital officials had received the audit data at the same time as media and will speak about the findings at a news conference Tuesday.
Nita McClellan, spokeswoman at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center, said the hospital leadership was not surprised by the findings in the audit.
The average wait time for a new patient seeking a primary care appointment at the Muskogee VA was about 31 days, the audit found.
“We expected these numbers,” McClellan said. “We watch them every day.”
The average wait time for new patients seeking specialty care at the Oklahoma City VA was 48 days.
Established patients waited, on average, five days for an appointment in Oklahoma City and two days in Muskogee.
For mental health appointments, new patients waited an average of 44 days in Oklahoma City and 31 days in Muskogee. Established patients waited about two days at both facilities.
Of the 22,595 appointments scheduled at the Muskogee VA medical center, 95 percent — or 22,079 appointments — were scheduled in 30 days or less, according to the audit.
At the Oklahoma City VA, 95 percent of 37,270 appointments were scheduled in 30 days or less.
McClellan said the difference in the findings between the Oklahoma City VA and the Muskogee VA relates to the types of care available at the two facilities.
“We have less services than Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, and they have specialties that we do not offer,” she said. “OKC is also a referral hospital, so other VAs within (our network) can refer their patients to them if they can provide a service that we cannot.”
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said in a statement that he was concerned about not only the overall veteran health care system but also about federal legislation that does not include funding an expansion of a VA medical clinic in Tulsa.
“While the wait times at our Oklahoma VA facilities are better than the inexcusably poor national average, we risk these wait times worsening if the Tulsa VA clinic isn’t given the opportunity to expand,” Inhofe said in the statement.
“The clinic is already at max capacity, and our nation will see an influx of veterans as our men and women in uniform return home from Afghanistan as well as our current veterans continue to age and the demand increases for specialty services. Currently, the Tulsa VA clinic is at risk of shutting down in 2020, which would then overburden the Muskogee VA clinic. This is more than just about wait lists. We must work to provide our veterans with all the options we can to have access to quality care.”
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