Hawaii had the longest wait time in the nation for veterans to get their first appointment with a primary care physician, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
New patients in Hawaii wait an average of 145 days to get an appointment at the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center and its affiliated clinics on neighbor islands, according to the data.
Wayne Pfeffer, director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System, said the VA center is hiring additional clerks and nurses to give doctors more time to treat patients. They also plan to provide more evening hours and Saturday clinics, he said.
“Our goal is to have no waiting list,” Pfeffer said. “We’re trying to reduce our waiting time. We’re hoping that as the new releases come out, we’re looking better and better.”
Wait times at the center are better for established patients. Excluding new patients, just 3 percent of Hawaii veterans waited more than 30 days for an appointment.
Hawaii resident Bryan Trumbower, a 32-year-old Army veteran, said he waited about six months for his first appointment with a primary care physician at the VA center.
“They tell you that when you sign up: ‘It will be six months,'” Trumbower said.
Pfeffer said he did not know for sure whether the staff was telling patients it would be a six-month wait.
“For the most part, we’re better than six months, but we try to give a realistic timeframe so they know what to expect,” Pfeffer said. “We’re working diligently to bring that down.”
About a year ago, Trumbower was diagnosed with a sinus infection but had to wait five weeks to see a specialist for further treatment. It took three weeks of phone calls to get an appointment scheduled, and then there was a two-week wait for an appointment, Trumbower said.
“There’s people out there dying on the list,” Trumbower said.
The VA has contacted 50,000 veterans across the country to get them off of wait lists, said Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson.
“This excessive wait time is unacceptable,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in a statement. “It is clear that the VA needs additional resources to match increasing demand for health services. Our veterans deserve better.”
NEW PATIENT PRIMARY CARE LONGEST AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. Honolulu, Hawaii: 145 days
2. VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend HCS, Harlingen, Texas: 85 days
3. Fayetteville, North Carolina: 83 days
4. Baltimore HCS, Maryland: 81 days
5. Portland, Oregon: 80 days
6. Columbia, South Carolina: 77 days
7. Central Alabama Veterans HCS, Montgomery, Alabama: 75 days
8. Providence, Rhode Island: 74 days
9. Salt Lake City, Utah: 73 days
10. Richmond, Virginia: 73 days
NEW PATIENT SPECIALIST CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend HCS, Harlingen, Texas: 145 days
2. El Paso, Texas: 90 days
3. White City, Oregon: 88 days
4. Clarksburg, West Virginia: 86 days
5. St. Louis, Missouri: 86 days
6. Middle Tennessee HCS, Nashville, Tennessee: 71 days
7. Durham, North Carolina: 69 days
8. Hampton, Virginia: 68 days
9. Mountain Home, Tennessee: 67 days
10. VA Central Western Massachusetts HCS, Leeds, Massachusetts: 67 days
NEW PATIENT MENTAL HEALTH CARE AVERAGE WAIT TIME:
1. Durham, North Carolina: 104 days
2. Clarksburg, West Virginia: 96 days
3. Amarillo, Texas: 61 days
4. El Paso, Texas: 60 days
5. Erie, Pennsylvania: 57 days
6. Central Alabama Veterans HCS, Montgomery, Alabama: 57 days
7. White City, Oregon: 57 days
8. VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend HCS, Harlingen, Texas: 55 days
9. Hampton, Virginia: 54 days
10. Dallas, Texas: 50 days