INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — We know more about why the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis is under scrutiny by the inspector general. Roudebush was red flagged after an audit in May. Now, I-Team 8 has learned a union president sounded the alarm about what she says happens with veterans inside Roudebush.
Congress members were briefed on Wednesday on 900 VA facility audits from across the country. See the audit at the bottom of this story.
The union president says “manipulation” and doctoring of appointment dates is “still a common practice” at Roudebush. In the audit, it says the union representative reported employees also manipulated the schedules of health care providers at the expense of veterans. It’s partly why VA auditors flagged Roudebush in May for further review.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski told I-Team 8.
She says after visiting Roudebush a few weeks ago, she knew there were issues with the waiting list. As the only Hoosier on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, she has fought to get information on Indiana facilities for 18 months.
“This is just the beginning of a continued story,” Walorski said. “I will continue to drill down and get answers at some point. I just don’t believe I have them right now.”
A spokeswoman for Roudebush said in a statement: “With over 95 percent of staff reporting that their work was reviewed by supervisors, there have been no observed instances of manipulation of provider schedules. The union president has not provided management with locations or instances to support this statement and allow for investigation.” Read the full statement below.
But the audit shows only 14 percent at Roudebush report the computerized appointment scheduling system is used correctly. Five percent say they were told to record a different date than what the veteran asked for. And the employees rated themselves and Roudebush as “very good” on customer service.
Congresswoman Walorski told I-Team 8 she wants to make sure there’s protection for the whistleblower at Roudebush.
“I’d be interested in speaking to the union president who did step up,” she said. “I sat in on the hearing the night the whistleblowers came in and talked about retaliation and retribution. And we had put into law they should be protected, and obviously that wasn’t happening.”
A $17 billion bi-partisan package will begin addressing long wait times and mismanagement at the VA. It includes $10 billion to help veterans gain access to care from non-VA providers if they are unable to readily schedule appointments. The audit does not say when Roudebush will be re-evaluated as a flagged facility.
Senator Joe Donnelly has heard the criticism aimed at Roudebush. But, Wednesday, the Indiana Democrat said the allegations are “still under investigation. The Inspector General is taking a look at this right now.”
Donnelly told 24-Hour News 8’s Jim Shella a union leaders claim of calendar and schedule “manipulation” has not been confirmed by anyone else.
“There has been nobody else who’s come forward and said ‘Yes, that has happened,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly is not ready to say that the “red flag” for Roudebush was not deserved.
“We don’t know what the final outcome will be,” he said. “So, it’s possible that it’s not deserved. But our obligation is to find out one way or the other.”
He said as soon as he gets the report, “everyone in Indiana will have it.”
Read Roudebush Medical Center’s full statement:
The average responses to key questions about scheduling practices during the independent audit do not support the statements made. All staff interviewed responded to two separate questions say they use only the VistA scheduling package or EWL for appointment tracking which is consistent with agency policy. Furthermore, staff responded that only “sometimes” lack of provider slots present a challenge.
With over 95% of staff reporting that their work was reviewed by supervisors, there have been no observed instances of manipulation of provider schedules. The union president has not provided management with locations or instances to support this statement and allow for investigation. The medical center director has been visiting clinic areas and talking with staff scheduling appointments with his observations supporting consistency in following policy by our front line staff.
The Indianapolis VA Medical Center expects all staff to adhere to agency policy related to scheduling in order to ensure management has an accurate picture of our access. Our Veterans deserve the highest level of care delivered in a timely fashion and we are proud to continue to work toward improving access to care.
– Julie Webb, VA Roudebush Medical Center
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs released this statement:
As these new details make painfully obvious, the environment in today’s Veterans Health Administration is one in which some VA executives are so driven in their quest for performance bonuses, promotions and power that they are willing to lie, cheat and put the health of the veterans they were hired to serve at risk. While the inspector general investigates these facilities in more detail to find out who was responsible for these schemes, one thing is certain: Any VA administrator who ordered subordinates to purposely manipulate appointment data should be fired immediately. As co-chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Conference Committee, I’m pleased that we have reached a bipartisan agreement to bring some much needed accountability to VA and provide veterans with timelier access to health care. I look forward to working with my counterparts in the House and Senate to send this crucial reform package to the president in short order.
– Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Here’s the audit: