Officials at the VA Center in Big Spring Speak Out On Why They Believe They Were Flagged

Officials at the VA Center in Big Spring Speak Out On Why They Believe They Were Flagged

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

BIG SPRING - Officials at the Big Spring VA Medical Center are speaking out after getting flagged for a second review by government inspectors. On Monday, results of a nationwide report were released comparing wait times with other centers.

They said they don't know specifically what triggered the decision but are confident employees tampering with books wasn't one of them. The news didn't come as a complete surprise to Michael Kiefer, who is the Director for the West Texas Regional VA System.

"There was no misconduct, no intent to deceive, no secret waiting lists designed to make us look like we're meeting some sort of access standard. Because the truth of the matter as I've been saying since I've gotten here, we don't meet the access standard and we don't meet it for quite a number of reasons, not the least of which we're a part of rural America, we've got an oil boom and a provider shortage," he said.

Another reason the center probably came under the radar involves another list, this one not so secret; the shortage in staff led to a doctor helping at a regional clinic where he came up with his own unofficial list on which patients needed the most immediate attention. That was the day before auditors came.

"So they said, 'You shouldn't do that.' And we were like, 'You're right, we shouldn't do that' and stopped immediately. But it was sort of like, 'Oh my goodness, you can't even keep a list now without it becoming a secret wait list of some sort,'" he said.

Additionally, Kiefer said that because of the operational setup they could get people in pretty quickly, "so we never had to put them on a list to take them off a list. Then as we developed our personnel shortages, there became a gap."

Now, the Big Spring facility is one of 121 nationally and three in the region to undergo another review.

"What this means is they need to take another look. That look can range from what they might believe to be egregious behavior, where they will send out an Office of the Inspector General investigation team and they'll look for people who have willfully been doing something unethical, all the way to what I believe is us, which is, we had some practices that weren't consistent with the directive and needed to be fixed and they're going to circle back around to make sure that we've fixed them," he explained.

The West Texas System already underwent two inspections in May, one at the Big Spring facility and the other at the outpatient clinics in the region. In preparation, staff was instructed to look for flaws and report them.  

Kiefer told the media that he made it clear to workers that, "this is not a witch hunt, this is not looking to point fingers. We want to know where we've strayed from the directive so that we can fix it. So when the access team comes, we can tell them, 'Welcome, here's where we screwed up.' And that's what we did."

Since then almost all patients on the near call list and all 150 on the Electronic Wait List of the more than 9000 patients are scheduled and ready to be seen.

As of 5 months ago, they've started offering some incentives which has resulted in the addition of three medics to help with provider shortages.

The Inspector General will make the final call on whether they'll investigate, and if so, who will do it and how. That decision may come in several weeks.

Until then, officials said they don't plan on doing anything differently.

"We really have a big black eye with the American people," Kiefer said, adding he took the job some months ago with the commitment to the veterans of West Texas is that nothing suspicious would happen under my watch, "as far as I know it."