• Another VA Director Resigns Amid A Flurry Of VA Disciplinary Actions

    A regional director overseeing VA facilities in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, is set to retire amidst major problems, Montgomery Advertiser reports.

    Southeast Network Director Charles Sepich has not yet listed any official date for his retirement, nor did he address the specific reason why he has decided to reason. However, over the past few years, the Southeast network has suffered many of the same problems plaguing VA hospitals across the country, namely falsified wait times, delays, and fabricated records.

    Unbelievable scandal has plagued the Southeast network during Sepich’s lead. To meet organizational goals for addressing consults within a 90-day timeframe, employees simply closed 1,500 patient consults. Around 600 of those patients hadn’t even seen a doctor. Numerous directors of VA medical centers in the Southeast have been fired or retired after scandals revealed instances of manipulated wait times and tampering with patient records.

    Unread X-ray records have mysteriously vanished by the thousands, which were finally discovered in early 2014. Both Sepich and then-Chief Medical Officer Stephen Holt had been aware of the issue, and Holt at one point asked staff in an email to delete references which showed that he knew about the X-ray problem as far back as 2012.

    In the past week, the Department of Veterans Affairs has publicly announced intentions to rid itself of patient wait time scandals by investing $690 million dollars into an entirely new patient scheduling system, but it was not enough to motivate Sepich to stay with the department.

    The patient scheduling system currently used has been in operation since 1985 and is starting to fray. Its chief fault is that it was not designed with the ability to prevent against data manipulation, which is why it was simple for the scandals in Phoenix and the Southeast network to continue undetected for so long.

    The request for proposal lists some of the deficiencies the department badly wants corrected in a new scheduling system set to be deployed with core functions in two years.

    “In the current state, clinic grids are inflexible, productivity is not measurable, there is no method for scheduling resources (staff, rooms, equipment), and there are no links between scheduled appointments and ancillary appointments, i.e. lab and radiology. These broken links cause unnecessary bookings and re-bookings as well as increased travel costs and patient dissatisfaction with VHA scheduling practices.”

    In the meantime, the VA will provide some fixes for the existing scheduling system as a whole in the coming months. For example, veterans will soon be able to make appointments using their smartphones. But the reason for the new system is that small fixes are insufficient to provide the system the overhaul it desperately needs.

    On the same day Sepich announced his decision to retire, VA deputy secretary Sloan Gibson arrived in Alabama to receive updates on attempts to fix problems in the healthcare system.

    Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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