The head of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System says there’s progress being made to improve access to care for veterans, though a jump in new patient numbers have kept wait times higher than the national average. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports.
Director Anthony Dawson says the Gulf Coast VA has taken a number of steps to help improve access, including adding and renovating new facilities, extending clinic hours and expanding the use of non-VA services when needed.
Dawson says the Gulf Coast VA has also hired 437 new employees since April 2014.
"This includes 35 physicians, four physician assistants, 102 nurses and 296 other selected critical occupations," he says.
Dawson says this hiring has led to a net gain of more than 100 full-time equivalent employees.
But the average wait time for a primary care visit at the Gulf Coast VA is 15 days, compared to four days nationally. Dr. Susan Roberts, deputy chief of staff at the Gulf Coast VA, says wait times have improved over the past 12 months – as patient numbers continue to rise.
"We have the highest average growth rate of any other hospital facility in this VA region," she says. "We have an average of 11 percent growth rate over the last three years, which is tremendously high. The average national growth is more like two to three percent. We have a popular health system and a high rate of growth, and that's probably one of the most challenging factors in meeting our access [goals]."
The Gulf Coast VA – which stretches from Mississippi to Florida - saw 53,000 patients in June.