Robert McDonald, testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on July 22, 2014 at his confirmation hearing. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Veterans Affairs Department officials will open their scheduling books to outside reviewers in an effort to get an independent assessment of how to fix medical center wait time problems, VA Secretary Bob McDonald said Friday.
The announcement came during McDonald’s visit to the Phoenix VA Health Care System, where revelations last spring concerning improper scheduling, lost appointment lists and lengthy patient wait times ignited a nationwide scandal.
“VA is committed to instilling integrity into our scheduling practices to deliver the timely care that veterans deserve,” McDonald said. “It is important that our scheduling practices be reviewed by a respected, independent source to help restore trust in our system.”
The VA Inspector General is still investigating fraudulent scheduling practices at more than 70 of the department’s medical facilities.
Since early June, VA leaders have publicly posted wait time data in an effort to provide more transparency, but critics have expressed little faith in any figures put out by the department in light of the scandal.
The outside audit will be done by the Joint Commission, a not-for-profit that specializes in health care accreditation. Investigators will begin work in the coming weeks, combing through each medical center’s scheduling and access practices.
It’s one of several reviews mandated by the new VA secretary, who has promised to change both operations and the culture at the department. McDonald said he has also begun an internal study into department ethics, promising a realignment of employees’ focus and values, and an overhaul of performance standards to be more focused on the care veterans receive.
He has also ordered town hall meetings at every VA facility nationwide by the end of September, to ensure administrators are tracking and responding to local veterans’ complaints.
On Thursday, President Obama signed into law a $16.2 billion VA reform bill that will boost department medical staffing, open more clinical space and make it easier for veterans facing care delays to see private physicians.
But implementing those initiatives is expected to take months, and McDonald has promised significant changes at the department within his first 90 days.