Hawaii veterans health care worker reveals deeper problems in system

The Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center in Honolulu

The challenges in Hawaii for veterans to receive timely medical care are even deeper than what’s surfaced so far.

There are new allegations that patients may be waiting even longer than 145 days, more than what was originally reported in a national audit released Monday that showed Honolulu being the worst of VA medical centers in getting first appointments for new veterans.

According to a health care provider, who asked to remain anonymous over concerns of retaliation, Hawaii’s veterans are put on two waiting lists.

The first is for what’s called a “new initial exam,” where veterans can wait anywhere from “several days to a year.” And according to this provider, “if you miss your phone call, you can go to the end of the list.

“Once a new initial exam is complete, a veteran is assigned to a primary care physician (PCP). … that waiting list is not 145 days, it’s more like a year.”

The health care worker said one veteran has been waiting for a PCP since October 2012.

And veterans are “assigned a PCP if there’s room in a physician’s panel. Sometimes that only happens when someone moves or dies.”

“If it was your son or your daughter who was sitting on a wait list for over a year or maybe two years, just to see a doctor, you would raise hell in high water,” said U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who called for the firing of the director of the local VA Medical Center on Friday.

The health care worker told KHON2 News that the “patients-to-doctor ratio is very high.” The worker said Honolulu has the equivalent of seven full-time PCP positions, and each has a panel of up to 1,300 patients. Part-time PCPs, who work two days a week, have a panel of 480 veterans.

The worker said physicians in the private sector are hesitant to take veterans as patients because “veterans are complex patients with more needs, physical, mental and psychiatric.”

Gabbard could not comment specifically on this new information, but knows more horror stories will surface.

“We are still not seeing the full picture and the full depth and scope of what is actually happening,” she said.

And that includes getting to the bottom of an alleged bonus system for administration and management positions which is said to be “measured by performance of numbers based on checklist and not actual care.”

“There is zero tolerance for dishonesty, lies, and incompetence,” Gabbard said.

The health care worker said more people on the frontline want to come forward, but are afraid to speak because “there’s a long history of retaliation against whistle-blowers. Even veterans are black-balled if they’re seen as troublemakers.”

“Listening to their continued frustrations is not enough,” Gabbard said. “Action is what matters.

“Unless strong action is taken, unless people are held accountable, unless people are investigated and prosecuted, that culture will not change and that’s why I’m calling for this action today,” she said.

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