Results from an internal Veterans Administration survey released this week found that employees at both the VA hospitals in Charleston and Columbia reported they were told to falsify data in order to hide long wait times.
The internal audit of VA employees found employees at those hospitals reported the cover-ups at a higher rate than the national average.
The survey found 16 percent of scheduling staff at the William J.B. Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia told investigators they had been ordered to change appointment dates. The rate was much higher at the Ralph Johnson Medical Center in Charleston at 39 percent.
The national average was around 13 percent of employees, but some hospitals in other states saw rates above 50 percent.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House approved legislation that would allow veterans to seek private health care if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility, or are unable to get an appointment at a VA facility within 30 days. The measure would also provide $16.3 billion to create the new network and hire more health care workers.
The VA has come under heavy fire from the public and lawmakers after it was revealed that hospital administrators were encouraging employees to hide long wait times. The VA’s policy had been to encourage no more than 14-day waits for new patients, but a previous audit found most facilities were nowhere close to that timeframe. Charleston averaged 45 days before an appointment, while Columbia’s hospital was one of the worst in the country at nearly 77 days.
A Charleston VA hospital spokeswoman told the Post & Courier newspaper that only five percent of employees who schedule appointments were interviewed for the audit.
A spokesoman at the Columbia hospital told The State newspaper that the hospital’s new director met with schedulers when he took over in May to ensure they understood the appropriate scheduling practices and received thorough training.