Dorn VA wait times shrinking, but serious incidents noted in report

jholleman@thestate.comJuly 17, 2014 

Even as Dorn VA Medical Center’s wait time for appointments improves, more statistics indicate the depth of other problems at the Columbia facility in recent years.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ twice-monthly release of waiting times data that began two months ago indicates the wait time at Dorn has decreased for new primary care patients (from 71.76 days on May 15 to 53.57 on July 1), for new specialty care patients (from 65.95 to 63.09 days) and for new mental health patients (from 45.01 to 31.79 days).

On the same day those numbers were released, national statistics for serious incidents at VA facilities in the past two years were released by the Washington Free Beacon, which received them after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

Dorn ranked fourth worst in the country with 27 “institutional disclosures of adverse events.” That ranked behind Gainesville, Fla., with 42, Greater Los Angeles with 38 and Pittsburgh with 29. The Augusta facility ranked 10th with 19.

Most of those Dorn incidents are old news – related to the well-documented backup of colonoscopy consultations in 2012 and 2013 that VA investigators have said led to at least 52 cancer cases and six deaths. But four of the 27 incidents at Dorn were in the most recent reporting time period.

Dorn’s most public concerns in the past year have revolved around contamination caused by air-filter failures in its operating room and the national concern with long waiting periods for appointments.

Dorn spokesman Kevin McIver said the four serious events noted in the Washington Free Beacon report were not related to the operating room filter problems, but he wasn’t more specific about those events.

“We are working to correct problems identified in the past by moving to address those issues, for it is important to restore the trust of our South Carolina veterans,” McIver said via email.

The facility has added staff, added evening and weekend hours and improved efficiency to add more than 1,700 more appointment slots.

On the wait times list, Dorn remains below the national average of 46.64 days for new primary care patients, 49.39 days for new specialty care patients and 35.20 days for new mental health patients. Dorn also lags behind VA facilities in Charleston and Augusta.

Those times are for future appointments and might be longer than actual waits because appointment times open up by cancellations or adding staff to meet demands. The wait times for completed appointments in the most recent round of statistics for Dorn were 51 days for new primary care patients, 37 days for new specialty care patients and 15 days for new mental health patients.

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