Three suspended for paper waiting list at Gainesville VA
Three mental health officials have been suspended from the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville after the federal Inspector General found a secret waiting list containing 219 patients.
According to an internal email, the medical center has placed director of mental health services Peter Durand, administrative officer Karen Chin, and Dr. Rajiv Tandon on administrative leave.
“This is only the start,” said Muriel Newman, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees.
According to Newman, management suspended the employees after an official from the Inspector General’s office for the Washington D.C. bureau of the Department of Veterans Affairs found a paper waiting list containing 219 patients lying on a mental health employee’s desk.
Reports of secret waiting lists have been popping up almost daily at VA hospitals across the country as different whistleblowers come forward saying managers falsified waiting lists in order to achieve the goal of scheduling an appointment for a veteran within 14 days of receiving a call.
Reaching that goal qualified the managers for bonuses from the federal government.
Thomas Wisnieski, director of the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center, said this waiting list isn't like the lists found at other VA Medical Centers.
"The clerk produced what is, in our review, a Patient Recall Appointment List," said Wisnieski.
Unlike the waiting list found at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, the patients on this list had already received an initial consultation, but then needed a follow up appointment that the hospital couldn't grant within six months of the initial consultation, according to Wisnieski.
"The schedulers, the individuals who are to use the electronic scheduling process, did not have the menu key to schedule out beyond 120 days," he said.
When revelations of the practice of keeping paper waiting lists surfaced at a VA hospital in Arizona, upper management at the Gainesville VA offered amnesty to any employees who came forward with secret waiting lists, according to Newman and employees at the medical center.
Employees at the medical center, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said they and their coworkers do not believe they’d have received amnesty if they came forward with the list.
“They don’t actually mean it,” said one employee.
(Wisnieski disputes those claims, saying he only offered amnesty after the Inspector General found the Patient Recall list.)
No employees came forward, and two sweeps by the local Inspector General’s office found no lists. However, an official with the D.C. Inspector General’s office went over appointment logs and found a secret waiting list for mental health patients.
While they couldn’t give a number or names, the employees said that there have been veterans at the Gainesville hospital who have committed suicide while awaiting mental health care.
UPDATE: VA spokeswoman Mary Hollingsworth provided this statement to TV20 asking to clarify our reporting:
Particularly concerning to us are recent media reports that have mischaracterized audit findings at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Fla. You can assure your readers—which includes current and future Veterans who use our health care--that there are no “secret wait lists” at the Gainesville VAMC where Veterans are being seen in a timely manner.
Here are the facts: On May 14, 2014, a VHA team reviewing patient scheduling processes were presented with a paper recall list by a scheduler in one of their clinics. The list contained the names of 219 established patients who had already been seen by a clinician and needed a follow up appointment in 120 days or more. The scheduling clerk did not have the menu option on the Recall System program to schedule follow-on appointments and inappropriately utilized a paper recall list.
Once this discrepancy was identified and made known to the Medical Center Director, he took swift corrective action. Supervisory staff was placed on administrative leave pending a review of findings. I want to be clear that this list, while its use was inappropriate, was not hidden by anyone nor was there a delay of any Veteran’s care. In fact, as of May 16th, many patients on the list had already received their follow-on appointments.
And while no other paper recall lists have been identified at our facilities through these reviews, additional training and education of our staff will be conducted to ensure scheduling practices are uniformly implemented across our health care facilities. On a national level, VA is developing an action plan to address any areas that have been identified needing system-wide implementation.
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