OMAHA — Less than 1 percent of medical appointments at Nebraska's largest Veterans Affairs health facility, the Omaha VA Medical Center, failed to meet the VA health system's timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days.
That's one of the lowest rates in the country, and the lowest for VA medical centers in the U.S. that handled more than 100,000 appointments from September through February. And overall, all of Nebraska's 10 VA medical centers and clinics fall under 1 percent.
Eileen Kingston, associate director for patient care of the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System, credits the ranking mostly to a weekly meeting of regional health care managers dedicated to improving access to care for veterans.
"There's a level of accountability ... and transparency, so if there's an issue that we're having with wait times in some of our clinics, then that comes out in this weekly meeting," she said
Nebraska's VA hospitals and clinics share some characteristics with more delay-prone facilities in other parts of the country. The state has a strong military presence with Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha and a partly rural population. But Kingston said the Nebraska VA system has instilled a culture of placing a premium on serving veterans. It does that by working to keep staffing levels high, meeting regularly with veterans groups and partnering with non-VA care providers to fill any gaps in care, she said.
Of the 133,500 appointments logged at the Omaha VA during the six-month time period, only 0.36 percent took longer than 30 days from the time it was scheduled until care was provided. In other words, only one in every 278 appointments resulted in a delay of 31 days or more. By comparison, at the Northern California VA-Sacramento Valley — which had 133,328 appointments — 1 in almost every 15 appointments took 31 days or longer to complete.
Nationally, 1 in 36 appointments — or 2.8 percent — involved a delay of 31 days or longer.
The Associated Press examined waiting times at 940 VA hospitals and outpatient clinics from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28 in the wake of last year's VA scandal, which uncovered delays for care and attempts to cover up those delays by manipulating the medical network's scheduling system. It led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and prompted lawmakers in August to pass the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which made $16.3 billion available nationally to reduce wait times.
Douglas County Veterans Services Director Allan Jackson said he had expected a barrage of complaints when the scandal broke last year, "but it was just the opposite," he said.
"They come in and say, 'I have no problems here,'" Jackson said.
Jackson, an Air Force veteran, has used the hospital himself, having a cancerous kidney removed in 2006.
"I was very happy with the treatment I got," he said. "Once it was found, I got a call at home asking if I could come into the office, and I went in that same day. Within 30 days, I had the surgery."