Internal survey reveals Providence VA answers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An internal survey by the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center reveals less than half of those surveyed gave the hospital “the most positive response” when asked a variety of questions about access to appointments at the facility.

The survey, which dates back to last October and covered a time frame that included the second quarter of 2014, was obtained by Target 12 after a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The entire survey was not released, but several of the questions forwarded to us were aimed at “access” to the hospital.

60.2% of those surveyed gave Providence VAMC an answer of “always” when asked how often they were able to get an appointment for care they needed “right away.” That percentage tumbled to 29.9% when the local veterans were asked if they could get care they needed when they called during evenings, weekends or holidays.

The percentage of satisfied patients also dropped on a question about waiting before an appointment. 33.8% reported always seeing their “provider within 15 minutes” of their appointment times.

The portion of the survey that asked about access included at least 18 questions. The composite score for those questions was 48.8%, meaning slightly less than half of those surveyed gave the facility that served 34,000 veterans last year, “the most positive response.”

Almost 80 percent of the veterans surveyed gave VA Providence providers high marks for communication.

Regarding medication decisions, just over half, 50.2% of those surveyed said their respective providers always talked “about the reason you might not want to take a medicine.”

Marine veteran Michael Stubbs is one of several local vets who told Target 12 they face a range of issues at the Providence VAMC, including long waits for appointments and what they consider unsatisfactory care.

Stubbs claims he was told he did not have a Traumatic Brain Injury despite severe headaches and hearing issues he currently lives with on a regular basis. Stubbs joined the Marines after the 9-11 attacks, and saw active duty in 2006 as a turret gunner in Fallujah, Iraq. In May of that year, an improvised explosive device exploded within a few feet of Stubbs.

He told Target 12 he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a Traumatic Brain Injury, but he claims when he went to the Providence VAMC between 2009 and 2012, he dealt with long delays in appointments, and was told by doctors the active duty explosion was not related to his severe headaches and hearing loss. He eventually decided to pay a provider outside of the VA network.

VA Director Susan MacKenzie told Target 12 that survey data is used to improve the hospital, but she also said she’s confident the Providence VA is one of the best medical facilities in the area.

Most of the percentages from the local survey were slightly higher than the national average for similar questions. Requests for comments from the VA about the local internal survey were not immediately answered.

The Phoenix VA is under investigation following claims employees at the facility used a secret list to hide long delays in service. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned about five weeks after the claims were made public. The firestorm prompted an investigation by the VA Auditor General into 42 VA hospitals.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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