CHICAGO (AP) — An internal watchdog for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found patients faced delays accessing care at a suburban Chicago veterans’ hospital, but its report uncovered no evidence supporting a whistleblower’s claim of a scheme to hide the long wait times.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General is releasing reports on its investigations at dozens of veterans’ facilities across the country over the next few months after pressure from members of Congress to improve transparency. Some of the other reports detail falsified records covering up the long waits. Intentional misconduct was substantiated in 51 of 77 completed investigations.READ MORE: City Celebrating Chicago Sky WNBA Championship Win In Millennium Park Tuesday
The report on the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, just west of Chicago, was released Thursday, though it was completed in January 2015.
It uncovered no evidence to support the whistleblower’s claims that secret patient wait lists were used to hide long waits for treatment so supervisors would get bonuses.
It did find that appointment schedulers, responding to direction from supervisors, made changes in a computer system that reduced the appearance of patient wait times. But it did not determine that data was manipulated intentionally to make the numbers look better.READ MORE: Woodstock Woman's Car Gets Damaged, Then Insurance Company Refuses To Pay Because She Called Police 2 Hours Too Late
Investigators’ interviews with employees revealed uncertainty about how appointment data was supposed to be logged in “antiquated confusing scheduling software.” As a result, some of the data changes appeared meant to fix genuine clerical errors, the report said.
Some employees told investigators that separate spreadsheets with appointment data had to be kept because the official software was so limiting, but they were not secret lists, as alleged.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has been especially critical of the Hines hospital and the VA in general. His office did not respond to a request for comment Friday on the report’s findings. Kirk first brought attention to Hines during a scandal over veterans’ health care that emerged nearly two years ago after complaints that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at a VA hospital in Phoenix.
The investigation at Hines included interviews with staff and a review of 245,000 emails. None of the emails pointed to an intentional falsification of wait time data.MORE NEWS: Woman Struck By Stray Bullet, Critically Wounded While Inside Her Home In Zion
“To the contrary, multiple emails … clearly show the acknowledgement of, and intolerance to, ‘gaming’ strategies and intentional falsification of wait time data,” the report said.