Providence VA Medical Center completes reviews

The Providence VA Medical Center on Chalkstone Avenue in Providence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence VA Medical Center has received a clean bill of health after two audits of the facility’s procedures in the wake of a national scandal involving the Veterans Administration.

Leslie Pierson, spokesperson for the Providence VA Medical Center on Chalkstone Avenue, told that a VA team from outside New England conducted extensive interviews with staff on Friday. The interviews focused on the staff who handled the scheduling of appointments for veterans; Pierson said no “covert lists” or other oddities were discovered.

“We found things to be above board and transparent,” she said.

The VA Medical Center in Phoenix has been accused of keeping secret lists of patients waiting for treatment in order to hide excessive waiting periods for veterans. Some 40 veterans allegedly died there while waiting for medical treatment.

Pierson said that patients at the Providence VA Medical Center usually wait about two weeks to see a doctor.

Friday’s review is the second undertaken at the local VA; Pierson said that Providence VA Director Susan MacKenzie had ordered an internal review shortly after CNN first reported the allegations about the Phoenix facility.

“The director wanted to be confident that everything was above board,” Pierson said, and noted that the internal review also failed to find any problems.

“The external audit confirmed the findings of the internal review,” she said.

The biggest concern for the Providence VA, Pierson said, is a potential loss of confidence among veterans who have not yet used the VA and might be reluctant to do so based on the national VA scandal.

To address that problem, the VA has stepped up outreach programs for veterans to make sure they are aware of the benefits and programs available to them, and that no malpractice has been discovered in Providence, she said.

By comparison, Pierson said, 85% of those veterans who are already “in the system” said they were satisfied with the scheduling and access to doctors at the various facilities.

The VA New England Healthcare System operates not only the Chalkstone Avenue facility but also clinics in Middletown, New Bedford and Hyannis. The system sees about 35,000 unique patients a year, mostly for outpatient issues, Pierson said.

Congressman David Cicilline sent Director MacKenzie a letter Monday urging the Providence VA Medical Center to complete a self-review; as of Wednesday afternoon that letter had not yet been recieved, but Pierson said Rhode Island’s congressional offices have been kept in the loop since the Phoenix story broke.

Nationally, the American Legion has called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign over the scandal. President Obama has so far opted not to fire the retired four-star Army general and said at a press conference Wednesday morning that he wants more time to review the situation.

“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period,” Obama said.

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