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VA says State College Clinic Meets Standards

by on June 06, 2014 6:00 AM

In the wake of a national scandal over some veterans not receiving timely access to health care, the State College clinic meets standards, according to figures released by U.S. Veterans Affairs.

The Altoona VA health system includes a medical center in Altoona and outpatient clinics in Johnstown, DuBois and State College. Together, the facilities saw 24,816 patients in the 2012-2013 fiscal year for a total of 213,448 appointments.

The State College clinic, located on Enterprise Drive, saw just over 4,000 patients with about 15,500 separate appointments in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according to figures released by the Altoona VA.

The State College clinic offers primary care, including regular check-ups, flu shots, lab work, audiology, optometry and podiatry. The clinic also has social workers and mental health counselors.

One of the issues in the national scandal stems from how VA staff handled patients in the Phoenix medical center. The VA's inspector general found staff covered up how long veterans waited for primary care. The scandal impacted roughly 1,700 veterans. The report also shows veterans waited an average of 115 days for initial primary care. Some veterans died while waiting to see a doctor.

The VA has an electronic waiting list that staff is required to place veterans on if they've been waiting longer than 90 days for an appointment. That list is monitored and reviewed by agency administrators.

For the Altoona medical center and its clinics, Altoona Spokesperson Andrea Young says officials conducted an audit May 14 to review scheduling practices and "no major concerns were identified."

In terms of local waiting periods, Young says nearly 85 percent of new patients in State College are seen within two weeks of the date the patients ask to be seen – a figure that is roughly two-times higher than the Altoona VA health system as a whole.

"This is a VA goal. The VA is making every effort to get people in when they need the care," Young says. "We're one unified health care system and the way they maintain the quality of care is by setting those goals and tracking them."

One challenge that can prevent staff from meeting scheduling goals is when a facility is understaffed, Young says. For example, the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the Johnstown clinic was short two doctors due to maternity leave and retirement.

"What we find the biggest challenge with is staffing doctors," Young says. "We have a very long credentialing process."

There have been other recent reports of mismanagement at VA hospitals in Colorado, Florida, South Carolina and in Pittsburgh where there was a controversial outbreak of Legionnaire's disease.

Ultimately, the Phoenix scandal forced Veterans Affairs Sec. Eric Shineski to resign.

In May, Congressman Glenn 'GT' Thompson, a Republican who represents the State College area, issued a statement about the Phoenix scandal.

"As a former therapist, hospital manager, and current Army dad I know we must restore the trust of these brave men and women who deserve nothing less than the best possible care and support," Thompson said.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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