Doctor Shortage Is Cited in Delays at V.A. Hospitals

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from The New York Times,

With too few doctors to handle a swelling patient population of veterans, hospital officials were under pressure to excel in the annual performance reviews used to determine raises, the inspector general’s report found.

Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck

Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, a primary care physician, took a job at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Jackson, Miss., in 2008 expecting fulfilling work and a lighter patient load than she had had in private practice.

What she found was quite different: 13-hour workdays fueled by large patient loads that kept growing as colleagues quit and were not replaced.

Appalled by what she saw, Dr. Hollenbeck filed a whistle-blower complaint and changed jobs. A subsequent investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded last fall that indeed the Jackson hospital did not have enough primary care doctors, resulting in nurse practitioners’ handling far too many complex cases and in numerous complaints from veterans about delayed care. “It was unethical to put us in that position,” Dr. Hollenbeck said of the overstressed primary care unit in Jackson. “Your heart gets broken.”

Her complaint is resonating across the 150-hospital Veterans Affairs medical system after the department’s inspector general released findings on Wednesday that the Phoenix medical center falsified data about long waiting times for veterans seeking doctor appointments.

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