Tennessee health system addressing audit findings

Friday, June 6, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 23

NASHVILLE (AP) — The director of the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System said Wednesday that it will soon receive as much as $15 million to address an audit showing long wait times for veterans.

Juan Morales told reporters that the money will help pay for additional physician-support staff and fees that may be incurred if a veteran has to be sent to an outside provider.

A recent VA audit found that Tennessee Valley Healthcare and a facility in East Tennessee have among the nation's longest wait times for new patients to receive specialist care.

New patients at the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System had to wait 71 days, ranking sixth-longest among all facilities, according to the audit. The Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Johnson City ranked ninth, with a wait of 67 days.

The director of the Mountain Home facility said earlier this week that it plans to open a new clinic and expand another.

Morales said Wednesday that even before the audit he was looking for ways to address the long wait times, and remains adamant about doing so.

He wouldn't say exactly where the money is coming from, but he said he got word within the past couple of days that it will arrive soon.

"I've been reassured that the support is coming," said Morales, who oversees the care of about 89,000 veterans, including patients in parts of Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. "We're committed to making it right."

The audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics around the country found that a 14-day goal for seeing first-time patients was unattainable given the growing demand among veterans for health care, and poor planning. The VA has since abandoned that goal.

Revelations of long wait times and falsified records forced the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last month.

Morales said there have been no reports of falsification at Tennessee Valley Healthcare.

The audit flagged VA facilities in Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and McMinnville for further review.