The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Atlanta VA Medical Center (VAMC) are fully committed to providing timely, high-quality health care to this nation’s heroes, our veterans.
Recently, the Atlanta VAMC has received negative media coverage regarding access to health care, wait times and alleged mismanagement. The numbers and data do not lie, and the Atlanta VAMC must improve its wait times and access for veterans. We have outlined below some of the aggressive actions taken to correct this issue. However, it is important to keep in mind the scope and reach of our services.
We are the seventh fastest-growing VA Medical Center in the nation. In fiscal year 2013, we provided health care for more than 90,000 veterans through over 1.1 million outpatient visits, nearly 7,800 inpatient admissions and greater than 41,000 emergency room visits. For FY 2014, we are projecting to see nearly 93,000 veterans and provide more than 1.5 million outpatient visits. The Atlanta VAMC has experienced a 72-percent growth rate in the number of visits and an increase of 53 percent in the number of veterans treated from fiscal years 2006 to 2013.
The Atlanta VAMC is one of only four VA hospitals and one of only six hospitals in Georgia to have Magnet Designation, which recognizes the provision of exemplary nursing care.
We are proud to have an active and robust research program and the Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation, a VA rehabilitation research and development center of excellence, one of only 16 such centers in the nation.
We have expanded our sites of care over the last few years, opening a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and Community Living Center in Carrollton and a significantly larger CBOC in Oakwood; expanding our Lawrenceville clinic; and openingon the Fort McPherson campus a new CBOC that will include a women’s center of excellence through a partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, a domiciliary, and an innovative Community Resource and Recovery Center.
Construction is underway for an expanded clinic in downtown Decatur and at the main campus for primary and mental health care. In addition, we are awaiting congressional approval for a 64,000-square-foot clinic in Cobb County as well as clinics for Pike, Pickens and Newton counties.
We have taken numerous steps to increase access to health care for veterans though Saturday clinics and extended weekday hours for some primary, mental health and specialty care services, increasing the number of appointments available for primary care providers, hiring additional direct patient care staff, and referring dental and ophthalmology patients to community providers if we cannot accommodate their schedule requests.
The Atlanta VAMC is having its service lines contact veterans with appointments scheduled more than 90 days out to see if they would like to be seen sooner. Calls are made daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and we are making three attempts to reach veterans on the phone before mailing them a certified letter.
We are committed to our veterans and to providing them with the health care and services they have earned and deserve.
Leslie Wiggins is director of the Atlanta VA Medical Center.