Moral Low Ground


Email Reveals Deliberate Effort by Cheyenne VA Hospital to Conceal Long Patient Waits

Cheyenne VAMC (Photo: National Park Service)

Cheyenne VAMC (Photo: National Park Service)

A Veterans Affairs employee at the VA Medical Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming has been placed on administrative leave following the revelation of an email proving agency employees manipulated the system to conceal excessively long patient waiting times.

CBS News reports Telehealth Coordinator David Newman, who is also a registered nurse at the Cheyenne facility, describes in the email how patients there are always on record as getting appointments within the 14-day period mandated under VA directive, even if they actually waited longer than two weeks.

“Yes, this is gaming the system a bit,” wrote Newman. “But you have to know the rules of the game you are playing, and when we exceed the 14 day measure, the front office gets very upset, which doesn’t help us.”

Newman then explains how staff can “get off the bad boys list” by “canceling the visit (by clinic) and then rescheduling it within that 14 day window.”

The Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman who leaked the email told CNN, whose Anderson Cooper called it a possible “smoking gun,” that employees at the Wyoming hospital were told to “game the system because it made Cheyenne look good.”

Lisa Lee, a scheduler at the VA clinic in Ft. Collins, Colorado– which is managed by Cheyenne, said the email instructed staff at the offending hospital how they could hide patient waiting times that are sometimes measured in months, not days.

US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a highly decorated retired four-star Army general, released a statement saying he has ordered an investigation by the inspector-general and has placed Newman on administrative leave.

“VA takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously,” the statement read. “If true, the behavior outlined in the email is unacceptable.”

But a CBS News investigation has found that VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector had already probed substantiated claims of improper scheduling at Cheyenne VAMC and reported it to the Office of Special Counsel last December. It is not clear why it took five months and a media inquiry for the VA to take action against Newman and order an investigation.

The latest news of alleged VA wrongdoing is the latest chapter in a growing scandal in which the VA is accused of deadly delays at facilities across the nation. Last month, CNN broke the story of an alleged “secret waiting list” at the Phoenix, Arizona VA facility. Some 1,400 veterans in need of medical care were allegedly placed on the secret list, which was confirmed by doctors at the facility. At least 40 veterans died while waiting for care there, many of whom were on that list.

On Thursday, Shinseki, who is coming under increasing pressure to resign in the wake of the ongoing revelations, directed his agency to conduct a nationwide review of VA medical facilities.

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