ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The VA Maryland Health Care System is reaching out to other health care providers to address an average wait time of 81 days for new patients seeking a primary care physician, the system's chief of staff said Tuesday.
Dr. Adam Robinson, the system's chief of staff, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that of about 1,000 patients who have faced such delays, the system has called more than 900 of them to help.
"We're reaching out to providers in the community," Robinson said. "We're reaching out to as many people that can help us. We're reaching out to the University of Maryland who we partner with on many specialty care areas, but in the primary care perspective we're really reaching out to the community here in Baltimore city and Baltimore County and making sure that we can give consultations to the local private sector community for those patients that need that."
VA auditors came to review the system between May 14 and May 22 as part of a nationwide review. The audit is the first nationwide look at the VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center.
The 81-day waiting period for new patients seeking a primary care doctor at the VA Maryland Health Care System was the fourth-longest at facilities examined in the audit.
"I was disturbed," Robinson said of the finding. "I was embarrassed, and I really wanted to sort of reach out to the patients that have given us the responsibility for their care and really say to them and to also the staff members — the dedicated people that are working here —I speak for them when I say we're really sorry that we have in any way given the impression that we are not dedicated absolutely to the care for the veterans, for the men and women who've worn the cloth of the nation and who now we have their care in our hands."
Robinson said he was surprised by the actual number of days cited in the report, although he was not surprised that the system has more people coming into its primary care center than it has access. He said an 81-day average wait was "absolutely too long." He said the problem largely is because increased demand for health services by veterans "has absolutely outstripped our ability to see them in a timely fashion." Still, Robinson said he wanted to assure veterans the system is trying to maintain its commitment to them.
"And for those who feel like that may have been damaged in any way, I really invite them to come here personally to see me, to make an appointment to come and talk to me and I will meet with them and let us attempt to rebuild whatever trust or whatever relationship they think may have been in anyway damaged by this event," Robinson said.
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. Robinson said the primary care issue cited in the audit mostly is concentrated in the Baltimore facility.