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Electronic Waiting List Scandal Costs VA Secretary His Job

May 30, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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Former Veterans Affairs (VA) Seceterary Eric Shinseki Credit: Wikipedia Commons/US Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs (VA) Seceterary Eric Shinseki has resigned over the electronic waiting list scandal that has put the VA’s healthcare system under a microscope.

The resignation comes only a few days after a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) highlighted the negligence from hospital officials and staff members at the Veterans Health Affairs medical center in Phoenix for not placing veterans on the electronic waiting list and undermining scheduling procedures. In total, the OIG report revealed the electronic waiting list system was missing at least 1,700 veterans who were not scheduled for an appointment.

By not placing veterans on the electronic waiting list and undermining scheduling procedures, officials ensured they could understate the time new patients waited for an appointment, which ties into financial incentives and rewards, media reports allege.  Instead, the Veterans Health Administration officials created a secret waiting list. Various mainstream media outlets reported that this created a lack of patient safety that led to a number of patients died waiting for care.

The OIG report substantiated some of those claims, but didn’t say the patients died because they were waiting to get an appointment. After analyzing, 226 appointments a the Phoenix  Health Care System, OIG concluded that veterans were waiting on average of 115 days for their first primary care appointment and 84 percent waited more than 14 days. Most of the discrepancies occurred, OIG says, because of delays between the veteran’s requested appointment date and the date the appointment was created. The delays occurred because personnel was printing demographic information on the patient and failing to add it to the electronic waiting list. Personnel said there were often delays and backlogs in adding those patients to the electronic waiting list.

Lawmakers, such as House Speaker John Boehner, were calling for Shinseki  to resign. As late as this past Thursday, Shinseki wrote an op-ed in USA Today defending his tenure at the VA and not willing to back down from the position. However, the Secretary met with President Barack Obama this Friday, who accepted his resignation. CNN reports that Secretary was not going to offer his resignation, unless asked for it.

In his comments to the media following Shinseki’s resignation, the President said that an internal review of the VA healthcare system revealed that the misconduct that occurred in Phoenix was happening in many facilities across the country. He said there was a need for change in culture at veterans’ hospitals and “perhaps the VA as a whole.” Obama also put some of the blame on “old broken computer” systems at the VA hospital, which complicated everything.

Sloan Gibson, Deputy Secretary of the VA, was named by the President as the Acting Secretary of the VA.

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