- Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a series on Kane County’s response to the VA scandal over health care.
Average wait times at Hines VA Hospital range from three to as long as 50 days, according to statistics obtained by Kane County’s Veterans Assistance Commission in response to an April letter and Freedom of Information Act request.
Veterans Assistance Superintendent Jacob Zimmerman sent the letter and FOIA request April 25, asking point blank “if there is more than one waiting list of patients awaiting care at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital” as well as requesting statistics on the average wait times.
Zimmerman sent the letter in the wake of a national scandal over veterans’ health care, in which hospitals across the country were accused of hiding months-long wait times for veterans seeking care, according to the Washington Post and many other media sources.
Zimmerman said he wrote the letter, in part, because the previous administrator at Hines — the primary hospital serving the 4,289 Kane County veterans enrolled in the VA system — was Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Whistleblowers say Helman fostered a “culture of deceit and intimidation” at hospitals she managed and was among the administrators who used secret lists to keep actual wait times hidden, according to NBC News and other sources. NBC’s report said Helman was in charge of Hines from February 2010 to February 2012.
Zimmerman received a response to his FOIA request Friday in a letter from Cheryl Fears, Hines VA FOIA officer. The letter and wait-time statistics charts were dated May 29.
In that letter, Fears said there is no secret list at Hines.
“The Electronic Wait List is the official wait list used by the Veterans Health Administration for new patient appointments, and it is the only wait list we use at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital for new primary and specialty care appointments,” she said.
According to the FOIA response, Hines’ “performance score target” is to have 47 percent of primary-care patients seen within 14 days of setting an appointment. For specialty care, the goal is 43 percent within 14 days.
The problem is, “they’re not meeting their own performance scores,” Zimmerman said.
Of the 456 primary-care appointments reported in the month of March 2014, 187 were completed in less than 14 days, a performance score of 41.01 percent.
The average wait time for of primary-care patients was 20 days.
In the specialty-care categories, the lowest average wait time was three days for the six patients who sought psychiatric appointments during the month of March. The highest average wait time was 50 days, for the 149 patients who received podiatry care.
As of Friday, Zimmerman said he had received only one call from a veteran regarding Hines VA performance.
“I’ve had more calls from congressmen than I have from veterans,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean that the many veterans he talks to every day aren’t angry about the serious allegations of widespread corruption.
“They’re concerned, I can tell you that,” Zimmerman said. “They’re also cautious (about trusting the VA for their health care needs.) Some feel that the VA has had their back to them for a long time.”
Zimmerman asked that any Kane County veteran who believes he or she has been poorly treated should contact his office immediately. The phone number of the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission is 630-232-3550. Zimmerman’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“If somebody has an issue with the VA, I’ve got a direct line to the Office of the Inspector General,” he said. “And I want all our veterans to know that we’ll use whatever means we have to to make sure they get the care they deserve.”