West Texas VA Clinics to Undergo Inspection

West Texas VA Clinics to Undergo Inspection

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

BIG SPRING -  Inspectors will be making a visit to outpatient VA clinics in West Texas. It's all after VA centers came under the microscope on charges of long wait times and even deaths.

Amid all the scandal surrounding the clinics, including three in Texas, NewsWest 9 had to see if something like that was going on over here. Officials at the VA Medical Center in Big Spring said there are no secrets.

"We encourage our staff to be fully transparent," Michael Kiefer, Director of the West Texas Veterans Affairs Health System, said. 

According to him, the the department was making rounds on medical centers and the larger clinics - those with more than 10,000 patients enrolled to evaluate their operations. Two weeks ago, they stopped by the one in Big Spring, where reports came up clean.

"They found no evidence of any secret waiting list or desire or communication among staff to hide wait lists or waiting time for patients," he said.

The Big Spring facility has the largest volume of patients waiting to be treated. But veterans like Jack Flowers and Sandy Betus say they haven't had issues getting help.

"The fact is that I'm dying from liver disease but I'd be long gone if I wasn't here," Flowers said.

Flowers, who's from Hobbs, has been going to the center for nearly 30 years. He said he has waited months at a time, but that was after having become a regular patient with the occasional appointments for treatment, nothing immediate.

According to Betus, there have been times where they didn't have any medical staff, but as far as the appointments, they kept pretty well-scheduled. He even added that his veteran buddies in Lubbock only had a few concerns, "but they weren't being neglected."

"Our facility in general has been very forthcoming in the fact that we do have some waiting lists and wait times but mostly because of the provider shortages that we're facing here," Kiefer said. 

But according to the director, they've been tackling that issue by leveraging other help, like through Telehealth and home-based care, and even incentives for the staff, among other ways.

"As for the rest of it, I think the IG report will shed light on possible issues at some locations. I'm feeling very confident that we don't have any of those issues here at this location in Big Spring or in any of our locations throughout West Texas," he said.

At any given time, there may be a request from the Inspector General's hotline, where a veteran or staff member has voiced a concern of some type. In those cases, the office requests a response from the facility in question. There have been some "usual" complaints according to Kiefer but, "none that haven't been answered satisfactorily."

"I worry about it, but it boils down to this: They do the best they can and I do the best I can," Flowers said.

Officials said inspectors are in the middle of their second round of evaluations centered at the smaller clinics, like those here. So a team from another region will be coming to check in on the West Texas community-based outpatient clinics next week. Those include the ones in Midland, Odessa, Hobbs and Abilene.