News Column

Durham VA wait times down, but still not meeting goal

May 31, 2014

By Lauren Horsch, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.



May 31--DURHAM -- Hours after the Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned from his position, administrators at the Durham VA Medical Center addressed issues of care and wait times in its care facilities across the Triangle.

DeAnne Seekins, director of the medical center, said over the past year the addition of 110 new staff members and extended hours has helped dropped waiting times in Durham care facilities.

Seekins did not give any new information about the investigation into the Durham facilities or about the two local administrators placed on leave last week.

In April, the average waiting time for new primary care patients was 34 days -- 20 days over the goal of 14 days. In April 2013 the average waiting time was 65 days. In April 2012, it was 55 days.

Craig Kabatchnick, director of the Veterans Law Program at N.C. Central University said these waiting times, while improving are still harming area veterans seeking care.

"When you're dealing with a heart condition ... or conditions involving strokes, veterans need immediate assistance," he said. The delays also place patients in a danger zone of not being diagnosed properly, or receiving proper care, he said.

While Seekins is not satisfied with the wait time, she sees the decrease as a win for the nine care centers in the area.

One of the obstacles to cutting down wait times, Seekins said, is that even with a large staff to treat patients, space is limited.

"Right now we have the space that we have here," she said. To make the space work in all of the Durham facilities, officials extended morning, evening and weekend hours.

Seekins said believes the Durham facilities are adequately staffed to meet the needs of the patients.

"For our current workload demand, we are, and we continuously recruit (workers)," she said.

Kabatchnick said hiring more employees and extending hours are steps in the right direction, but more can be done.

"That's a positive, but obviously, there is a problem," he said. "You got a waitlist, you got a problem, but it's solvable."

The VA hospital, which is across the street from Duke Medical Center, shares a lot of the same physicians. The doctors split time between facilities. Kabatchnick believes partnering with Duke is the way to solve such problems. He said by using the Duke facilities and work force -- not just the physicians -- wait times will be cut down and care, especially in the mental health field, will improve.

In general, administrators said about 1,500 patients are seen in the Durham system per day. On a daily basis about 3,200 appointments are scheduled. Patients will often time group appointments together to save trips.

On June 2, if all patients show up for the appointments, 2,265 individuals will be seen by doctors.

Since Seekins joined the Durham facility two years ago, the VA has "overstaffed and over-hired" to help patients receive the care they need, she said.

"Our access numbers did improve (over two years), because we opened up and began providing patients more care in the community," Seekins said.

When she came on board, it was in the beginning stages of a "medical home model," which helps create a care team for patients.

For them, looking to create a patient-centered care team helps improve outcomes, and even pinpoint where the VA can improve in care.

"We're ready, we're strong," Seekins said.

___

(c)2014 The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.)

Visit The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.) at www.heraldsun.com

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Source: Herald-Sun (Durham, NC)


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