ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The average wait time for new patients seeking a primary care doctor at the VA Maryland Health Care System is 81 days, the fourth-longest at facilities examined in a nationwide federal audit released Monday.
The wait is more than five times the 14 days the U.S. Veteran Affairs Department set as guidelines for someone to see a doctor. The department has said the guidelines were inconsistently used throughout the health care system and couldn't be followed because of growing demand for services and a lack of planning for the resources required.
The Maryland system includes the Baltimore and Perry Point VA hospitals as well as the Loch Raven VA Community Living and Rehabilitation Center. It also includes six outpatient clinics throughout the state at Cambridge, Fort Howard, Fort Meade, Glen Burnie and Pocomoke City.
VA auditors came to review the system between May 14 and May 22.
The Maryland system said in a statement that it is not among those currently under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General in regard to allegations of inappropriate appointment scheduling practices at some VA medical centers across the country.
"At the VA Maryland Health Care System, all new patients who are waiting more than 90 days for a primary care appointment are being contacted to offer them an earlier clinic appointment in a VA facility or with a community partner," the system said Monday in a statement in response to the audit.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md. and a Navy veteran, said the wait times are unacceptable.
"The report is no surprise, as the No. 1 complaint my caseworkers receive is on issues with the veterans' administration," Harris said in an emailed statement. "Wait times of this length are completely unacceptable, which is why we need to allow our high-priority veterans to opt out of a failed veterans' health system."
The system said Monday that it has introduced Saturday primary-care clinic appointments at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.
"Overall, 96 percent of all clinic appointments throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System are scheduled within 30 days or under," the system said.
Nationally, the audit found that more than 57,000 patients are still waiting for initial medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics 90 days or more after requesting them. The audit includes interviews with more than 3,772 employees nationwide between May 12 and June 3.
The VA has come under scrutiny after allegations that 40 patients died while awaiting care at a Phoenix hospital where employees kept a secret waiting list to cover up delays. The scandal resulted in the resignation last month of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.