Big Spring VA Center Flagged For Secondary Investigation After Nationwide Audit

Big Spring VA Center Flagged For Secondary Investigation After Nationwide Audit

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

BIG SPRING - The VA Hospital in Big Spring has been flagged for another investigation after information from a nationwide report came through on Monday.

The results from the primary investigation broke down some numbers for patient wait times for new and existing patients seeking a variety of treatment like primary care, specialized care and mental health screenings among other visitation. Afterwards, they concluded that three centers needed further review. Big Spring was among them.

According to representatives at the center, officials went behind closed doors for their quarterly meeting and to digest the data from the audit. As for patients, some of them are not surprised that Big Spring came up on the shortlist.

"It's about time! Probably because of the lack of doctors found there recently," Thomas Tufuro, who's a veteran currently living in Big Spring, said.

Tufuro had been trying to book an appointment since April for treatment to his liver. He said he initially had one, until they cancelled it.

"They said, 'Your doctor left. We have no doctor for you.' I'm like, 'What?'" Tufuro said.

So Tufuro wrote to the Inspector General's office twice with complaints and is waiting to hear back.

"It's not fair to the other ones, the other two are working there and they're being overloaded. What do you think they're going to do? They're not going to be happy campers. They'll probably leave too. This is crazy!" he said.

According to the findings, about eight percent of patients coming to the Big Spring Center are not scheduled within 30 days of their initial call and that number is high- tied for second worst- compared to those at the other facilities.

Although new patients seeking primary care at the center are seen relatively quickly, returning patients in need of similar treatment don't have it as good. The center actually tops the list as the worst in that category with a wait period of 12 days.

Officials at the hospital have acknowledged they have issues with wait times but they blame it on the staff shortages that are common in the area.  

A press release from the VA states in part, "We agreed with the team's assessment that we were not in full compliance with the scheduling directive and immediate steps were taken to improve this area." It goes on to read, "We have renewed and redoubled our efforts locally to improve internal systems to ensure appropriate access for our Veterans. Our main goal is to always focus on what is best for our Veterans and we will continue to do this. We welcome VA's continued review to enhance these efforts."

Tufuro is somewhat skeptical, questioning why he couldn't be checked out over video by another doctor and also what is going on with the administration in charge of hiring, since it appears they haven't been able to hire and retain good workers. Either way, he's happy something is being done.

"Well at least they're under the microscope now. They can't shovel it under the rug now and maybe things will get rolling," he said.

The VA has already been taking action to address issues that have come up in this audit, like through offering employee benefits, outsourcing medical staff and implementing an electronic wait list, in which many patients who were on it at the time of the inspection in May have already been seen.