Atlanta VA Health Care System
Atlanta VA Leadership discusses quality data
Atlanta VA officials tout improved quality measures
By Craig Schneider- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Under attack for long wait times and mediocre care, Atlanta VA Medical Center officials made the case Friday that the facility is improving both access to treatment and quality of care.
Director Leslie Wiggins pointed to newly compiled figures that show veterans are getting appointments quicker and receiving better care for conditions such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure and hospital-acquired infections.
The figures, which were for the months January through March, showed improvement over the previous quarter on 20 of 27 measures tracked by the VA’s performance improvement system.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re continuously improving,” said Wiggins during a press conference. “Things are improving every day.”
At the same time, there was no change in the hospital’s overall quality ranking among VA facilities when compared to similar data from 2011. The Decatur facility rates two stars out of a possible five, placing it in the bottom third of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ 128 acute care and surgery facilities.
Sunday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in depth on the hospital’s standing and its struggle to climb out of the lower rungs of the VA’s ranking system.
Friday, even as VA officials went through a PowerPoint presentation before numerous media representatives, some patients said any improvements they have noticed have been modest.
“It’s better. I was able to get an appointment in two months,” said Andy Johnson III, a Vietnam vet with post traumatic stress disorder. He had waited far longer in the past, he said, but “two months is still a long time.”
Problems at the Atlanta VA have stood front and center in a national scandal over over long wait times at VA medical centers. The local center has had among the longest waits for new patients in the country.
The hospital is one of five VA facilities in Georgia flagged for investigation following a national audit that identified long wait times and possible records tampering at VA hospitals and clinics across the country.
On Friday, Chief of Staff Dr. David Bower said the Atlanta VA has reduced wait times in several areas by expanding access at clinics.
Kaye Coker, who heads the nonprofit service group Veterans Heart Georgia, said she’s heard less complaining from vets lately about the VA, which she takes as a good sign. She still worries about such fundamental problems as getting through over the phone, a measurement for which the facility continues to rank among the worst in the country.
Hospital officials say they’ve added 15 more positions to the call center to reduce the time it takes to answer calls.
The general trend of improvement heartened Coker.
“I hope it trickles down to the veterans and they get quicker appointments and better health care,” she said.
Still, the rankings presented at the news conference showed Atlanta losing ground on primary care wait times when compared to other VA facilities.
But in other significant areas, measures moved in a positive direction. The hospital’s 30-day death rate for pneumonia rose from the bottom 20 percent of facilities to the next 20 percent. It’s 30-day death rate for congestive heart failure rose from the second 20 percent into the third 20 percent.
Officials said the better rankings are more than a blip, that several measures have shown consistent improvement over 12 months.
For all the improvement cited, the hospital remained in the bottom 40 percent of VA facilities for almost half of the categories measured.
Wiggins emphasized, however, that the hospital system stacked up well when compared to hospitals outside the veterans system.
She would have a hard time convincing Maurice Hicks, whose wife, Sharon, came into the hospital emergency room Sunday for problems with an implant used for her dialysis. She is still awaiting surgery, he said.
“I’m trying to encourage her to stay strong,” he said.
Hicks, himself an Army vet, said he just got an appointment to treat his glaucoma. He showed an appointment card that said he must wait until November.
“They’re playing with veterans’ lives,” he said. “I served faithfully. I want respect.”
Nationally, the VA has been scrambling to right itself. A new director, Robert McDonald, a West Point graduate who went on to lead Procter & Gamble, recently took the helm.
Thursday, President Barack Obama signed a bill providing the agency $16.3 billion in emergency funds. The measure, passed only after weeks of partisan wrangling, will enable the agency to hire more doctors and nurses. It also makes it easier to fire top VA executives if they fail to perform.
Atlanta VA hospital director says facility is making improvements
Renee Starzyk- ATLANTA (CBS46)
The director of Atlanta's VA Medical Center held a news conference on Friday to unveil statistics that show the hospital is making improvements.
"Our focus here is always to continually improve," said Director Leslie Wiggins. "The end goal is excellence for veterans and I think it's been a 12-month record of improving."
Wiggins and top staff members said statistics show the hospital has made improvements in 20 of 27 key areas.
The hospital noted that it hired more mental health workers after three patients committed suicide and has added workers at the call center.
They said there are three areas that need work, including reducing patient wait times for care and improving response time at the call center. The hospital currently has one of the worst wait times in the VA system.
"We look at every opportunity to continue to improve, from the top to the bottom," said Wiggins. "We get the leadership involved, the resources involved, the equipment involved and it varies but we attack wherever we find the gap."
The director said the $16.3 billion VA bill President Obama signed on Thursday will mean more money for the hospital and lead to additional improvements.
"I expect we'll get a significant amount of those resources and I welcome it, whether it helps me to get our veterans out to our community partners or whether it allows me to hire quickly so that I can keep them home, here, and take care of them."
The VA hospital serves more than 90,000 veterans per year and is one of the fastest growing in the country. It expects an influx of more patients as soldiers return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They need to know at all times that we have their best interests in front of us," said Wiggins.
Atlanta VA cites improved wait times, care
The Associated Press - ATLANTA
Officials with the Atlanta VA Medical Center are reporting improvements to wait times and care, following a national audit two months ago that identified problems at the facility and prompted further federal review.
The facility's director, Leslie Wiggins, told reporters Friday that newly compiled figures for January through March show veterans are receiving appointments quicker and obtaining better care for conditions such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure and hospital-acquired infections.
"We're not perfect, but we're continuously improving," Wiggins said. "Things are improving every day."
The figures marked improvement over the previous quarter on 20 of 27 measures tracked by the VA's performance improvement system. However, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the hospital's overall quality ranking among VA facilities remained unchanged, with two stars out of a possible five. The newspaper said that means the facility's in the bottom third of the VA's 128 acute care and surgery facilities.
Atlanta VA officials said they have also added 15 call center positions to reduce the time to answer calls.
The Atlanta VA hospital is one of five VA facilities in Georgia flagged for investigation after a national audit that identified long wait times and possible records tampering at VA hospitals and clinics across the country.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed a bill providing the VA with $16.3 billion in emergency funds, which will help hire more doctors and nurses. The bill also makes it easier to fire top VA executives if they fail to perform.
Copyright The Associated Press
Progress At VA Hospital Is Slow, Despite Changes
By Jeanne Bonner
Officials with Atlanta’s VA hospital say they are cutting wait times for appointments and adding staff, in response to system-wide allegations over the past year that veterans died while waiting for care.
But the chief of staff at the Veterans’ Administration hospital, Dr. David Bower, said Friday that the size of Atlanta’s military population makes it difficult to quickly improve conditions.
“A lot of the measures that we are challenged with are directly or indirectly related to access and capacity and being able to absorb the growth that is coming to our VA," he told reporters at a briefing. "We are one of the fastest growing VAs and one of the fastest demands for care, and that’s reflected in our wait times not being where we want them to be.”
Bower and the VA hospital’s new chief, Leslie Wiggins held the briefing to provide an update on ongoing improvements to the quality and speed of care at the facility.
Wiggins said while veterans are receiving care sooner, and that care is of a better quality, there's still much work to be done.
"We recognize we are not perfect," she said.
She said in particular the quality of mental health care is improving.
“We have increased the number of patients we can take," she said. "We reduced the wait times for mental health care. We reduced the number of contract facilities that we allow to take care of veterans. We had some 20 contract facilities now we are down to five or six.”
Wiggins took office a little over a year in the wake of a system-wide scandal over excessive wait times that led to veterans -- including three in Atlanta -- dying before they could receive care.
One man whose father is a World War II vet said conditions are finally improving at Atlanta's VA hospital. Sitting outside of the hospital Friday afternoon with his father, who uses a wheelchair, he declined to give his name. But said much has changed since Wiggins arrived.
"He's finally getting better care," he of his father. "I couldn't say that a year ago. Things were just wrong. Employee moral. Workers bickering with each other. People not doing their jobs properly. But that is changing."
Atlanta’s VA hospital served 90,000 patients last year and is one of the fastest growing VA facilities. Wiggins says she expects an additional 20,000 vets to see care at the hospital in the next three to five years.
The Atlanta VA plans to open a new center in Decatur and significantly expand another facility in Austell.
Atlanta VA Officials: Center Improving, But Wait Times Still Too Long For Some
Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center officials say data used to compare the center with other VA facilities show the center has made a number of improvements in the past two years, but they also say the center faces a number challenges. The facility is among several in the system that have faced scrutiny during a recent VA scandal over primary care wait times.
Officials say the center is doing better in measures that include: mental health care and specialty wait times, in-hospital complications and healthcare associated infections. Center Director Leslie Wiggins also said the data show the center has made significant strides in second quarter of the 2014 fiscal year.
“20 out of the 27 metrics moved in a positive direction.”
Still, the center is currently ranked as a two out five star VA facility. Officials say they believe the ranking will soon improve.
One of the biggest challenges the center continues to face is primary care wait times. In January, February and March the center ranked in the bottom 20 percent of all VA facilities measured. Atlanta VA Chief of Staff Doctor David Bower said the primary care wait times are something the facility is working to address.
“We have one of the fastest growing VAs, and we also have one of the fasted demands for care. That’s been reflected in our wait times, that we’re not where we want to be in those wait times,” said Bower.
Bower said the Atlanta VA plans to open another nearby Decatur campus and a VA overhaul bill signed by the president last week will allow for the expansion of a Cobb Clinic. Officials are also hopeful the newly signed measure will give the center more financial resources to hire additional employees and open new buildings.
Several veterans say the changes can’t come soon enough. 56-year-old Army Veteran Maurice Hicks was critical of how long it was taking center doctors to remove a problematic bag in his wife’s stomach used for dialysis. He also said he has to wait three months for an eye appointment.
“There’s more money that’s needed in the veteran administration. You need more doctors, you need more RN nurses.”
Others like Vietnam Veteran Andy Johnson say things are getting better. He said in the past he waited as long as two years to receive primary care and his latest appointment will take two months. But he says that’s still too long.“I feel like I should be treated better because I got shot five times in Vietnam,” said Hicks.
Other measures where the facility struggled were its call center and employee satisfaction. Officials said the center has added 15 more employees to help improve its call center.
However, officials say the majority of the metrics it releases to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show the center is doing better or equal to private hospitals.