The long waits for many new patients at local VA healthcare facilities were addressed for the first time Wednesday by top officials in the Middle Tennessee system with the promise “to do better” and an indication of “getting more resources” that could total $14 to 15 million.
“We are committed to making change, making it right,” said Juan Morales, who heads the local VA healthcare system. “It’s been disappointing.”
A federal audit released Monday indicated that new patients seeking a specialist in the Middle Tennessee system had to wait an average of 71-days.
The report said it was the sixth highest wait time in the country for that category.
While acknowledging those figures, Morales said his VA bosses have indicated to him within the last day that additional resources are likely on the way to help veterans see specialists outside the VA system.
Morales, identified 4,530 veterans in the Tennessee Valley VA system as currently on an electronic wait list.
He said around 3,500 are waiting for eye care, another 500 waiting for orthopedic specialists and the reminder in other medical specialty areas.
Director Morales, along with the local VA system’s interim Chief of Staff Dr. Roger Jones and Chief of Medicine Dr. Brian Christman, were part a rare news conference Wednesday at the Nashville VA to address the patient wait times and other lingering VA healthcare issues.
Reducing the waits will mirror recommendations made in the federal audit which include more staffing, and additional ways for patients to see doctors outside the VA System.
While acknowledging the specialty wait times, Morales said 98% of all of the system’s 122,000 local VA patients are seen within 30-days.
He also added that three of the facilities in the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System “have been flagged for further review” by the Veterans Healthcare Administration.
These include the Nashville VA hospital, along with outpatient clinics in Chattanooga and McMinnville.
“As of today, I don’t know the reasons, and I don’t know when they are coming,” said Morales.
The additional funding for more resources is expected to come from an emergency funding bill being considered right now in Congress.