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Lies catch up to VA hospitals, including Hines

Military veterans who want to make appointments at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital should be able to schedule appointments without lengthy delays. The hospital says so on its website.

In reality, getting in could be tough, but supervisors and other employees found a remedy to hide it. Supervisors had workers zero out wait times for appointments to make it look like doctors treated patients in a timely manner at the hospital about 10 miles west of downtown Chicago, according to a report by the Veterans Affairs inspector general obtained by USA Today.

Putting veterans through delays is bad enough. Lying about it to cover their behinds? Pitiful. It further bogged down a system charged with taking care of our nation’s bravest men and women. Friday, David Shulkin, undersecretary of health for the VA, announced plans to expand the agency’s capabilities to serve some patients with same-day appointments for primary care and mental health needs. A smartphone app will help patients schedule appointments and track wait times. Employees who handle scheduling have been retrained.

We won’t hold our breath for rapid improvement. Problems are too widespread.

EDITORIAL

At 40 facilities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, it was common practice for workers to zero out patient wait times, USA Today reported. Supervisors at VA hospitals in seven states, including Illinois, were responsible for masking delays.

The inspector general launched an investigation after news outlets reported in 2014 widespread scheduling delays across the country. Some veterans died while waiting for care.

A social worker at Hines came forward in 2014 with allegations of patients being placed on secret waiting lists. When appointments became available, the patients were entered in officials logs to give the appearance the hospital was in compliance with the VA’s target wait time of 14 days, the social worker said. At that time, executives and doctors received bonuses partly based on wait times.

The inspector general found that schedulers at Hines gave the impression that there was no wait time for patients who needed pain treatment by giving appointments as they became available, not by the initial request.

USA Today also reported scheduling schemes at the VA Illiana Health Care System in downstate Danville, where some employees altered dates to show no wait times for patients.

The lies made the hospitals look like they were on top of things for vulnerable veterans. Really, Hines and Danville were part of a systemic mess.

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