10 Things to Know About the Alleged VA Cover-Up

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VA hospitals across the country are under investigation due to allegations of treatment delays resulting in patient deaths and leaders falsifying records. The problem is so wide-spread it has caused Congress to act by attempting to enact legislation that would create a quicker process for firing and demoting VA hospital executives.

Allegations of secret patient waiting lists and falsified appointment records have been made against VA hospitals in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Wyoming.

Here are 10 things to know about the alleged VA cover-up of patient wait times:

1. In November 2013, the VA's Office of the Medical Inspector released a report that found employees of a VA outpatient clinic in Fort Collins, Col. were instructed to falsify appointment records to meet performance goals. Although many of the clinic's patients waited months to be seen, the clerical staff at the outpatient clinic was not allowed to document patients waited longer than 14 days for an appointment.

2.  In December 2013, HHS' Office of the Inspector General began investigating allegations of a secret patient wait list at Phoenix VA Health Care System. It was alleged hospital leaders created the secret patient wait list to hide the actual amount of time patients were waiting for appointments. It was also alleged 40 patients died while waiting for care. Along with the secret wait list allegations, Phoenix VA leaders were also accused of collecting bonuses for reducing patient wait times that were not based on actual improvement but rather on executives' manipulation of patient wait time data. The allegations against Phoenix VA were brought by Samuel Foote, MD, who worked at the hospital for 24 years.

3. On May 1, several executives from Phoenix VA Health Care System were placed on administrative leave amid the secret wait time allegations. One of the executives placed on leave was Phoenix VA's director Sharon Helman, a former director of Hines, Ill.-based Edward Hines Jr. VA.

4. On May 8, an internal email at Hines VA showing excellent wait times for patients who came to the hospital for mental health services caused Germaine Clarno, a social worker at the hospital and president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees to express her concern. In questioning the information contained in the email, she discovered the hospital was keeping a secret wait list with manipulated data, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report.   

5. Ms. Clarno told CBS News patients at Hines VA were kept on "secret waiting lists" to hide the number of patients who were not being seen on time and to allow hospital executives to collect bonuses for meeting speedy treatment standards. Ms. Clarno also said patients were put on the secret waiting lists at the time they called for appointments and were not formally booked in the computer until the hospital had an appointment time within its goal of 14 days. Ms. Clarno said multiple employees from Hines VA have since come forward with their own stories concerning the secret wait lists.

6. Hines VA's current director, Joan Ricard, has denied a secret patient waiting list was used at the hospital. She said the document sent via hospital internal email and seen by Ms. Clarno contained a spreadsheet that was used by the hospital's mental health department as a performance improvement tool and was not connected in any way to patient scheduling, according to the Chicago Tribune.

7. The Department of Veteran Affairs was called on to investigate Hines VA by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). He also requested the Inspector General broaden its investigation of the Phoenix hospital to include Hines VA because of the connection between the two facilities and the similarity of the alleged secret wait lists at both hospitals.

8. Concerning the Phoenix VA, Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration told a Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee there was no evidence of a secret wait list or of patients dying while waiting to receive treatment at the hospital, according to a Washington Post report. Mr. Petzel has since been asked to step down from his position by Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

9. On May 9, a nurse at a VA clinic in Cheyenne, Wyo. was placed on administrative leave after allegedly instructing employees to falsify patient wait time records. Her leave came after emails surfaced showing employees at the Cheyenne clinic were taught to "game the system" and falsify records to show patients were being seen within 14 days, when many patients were actually waiting months for an appointment, according to a CNN report.

10. On May 20, a government audit team reported Gainesville, Fla.-based Malcom Randall VA was keeping many patients' appointments on paper instead of in its electronic system, which could indicate the facility was also keeping a secret wait list. As a result, the hospital's supervisors have been placed on leave, pending the outcome of an investigation, according to a CNN report.

More Articles on Fraud:

Former WellCare CEO Gets 3 Years in Prison For Healthcare Fraud
Appeals Court Upholds $6.1M Fraud Judgment Against BCBS of Michigan
Humana Under Investigation For Allegedly Overcharging Medicare Advantage Program

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