In his first public appearance as acting Veterans Affairs Secretary, Sloan Gibson said Thursday that the department will release results of a nationwide audit of its health facility scheduling practices next week.
A preliminary report detailing scheduling problems at 60 percent of VA hospitals and clinics found systemic issues and led to the resignation May 30 of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
According to that report, 13 percent of scheduling staff said they had been instructed to enter dates for appointments into their systems that differed from a patient’s request, thereby appearing to meet VA-wide standards, while nearly 8 percent of staff used alternatives to the department’s official scheduling system, eliminating any chance of being reprimanded for lengthy wait lists.
Speaking from a podium in the Phoenix VA Medical Center, Sloan said the department must “earn back the trust of veterans.”
“Veterans must feel safe when they come to VA for care,” he said.
In his first days as interim VA secretary, Gibson has continued plans put in place by Shinseki before he resigned, including removing a performance metric on senior VA managers’ annual reviews that required them to meet a 14-day standard for appointment times and served as an “incentive to falsify information.”
He said no VA senior executive service employees will get bonuses in 2014 and added that anyone involved in willful misconduct or negligence would be punished.
VA announced Wednesday that it had contacted all 1,700 veterans who were left off the Phoenix VA’s official appointment wait list system. According to Gibson, 18 vets on that off-the-books list were dead, some of whom VA had “tried to contact multiple times” and others who needed end-of-life care.
Gibson said the department is following up to determine whether any of the deaths were related to delays in care and added that he would not make excuses.
“We have integrity issues, cultural issues,” Gibson said.
During his first week in office, Gibson has met with representatives of veterans’ service organizations and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. He also spoke extensively with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and said he has no intention of acting like an interim secretary.
“I expect every medical center director to deliver a certain standard of care,” Gibson said.
Under his direction, VA will conduct a system-wide review of resources at each facility. Upon his arrival in Phoenix Thursday morning, Gibson found the facility understaffed and said it does not have enough resources. Other facilities, he added, may need guidance to ensure they are making efficient use of their funding.