CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Wait times at the Louis A Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg are now lower than the national average — an accomplishment Director Dr. Glenn Snider says has been a goal for several years.
For patients of Clarksburg’s VA, the average wait time for primary care is just 3.61 days, compared to the national average of 4.44, Snider said during the VAMC’s quarterly town hall meeting Thursday.
Just four years ago, that same wait time was more than twice that figure, when the VA hospital system came under fire amid reports of lengthy wait times.
According to data recorded Oct. 1, 2014, the Louis A. Johnson VAMC took an average of nine days to complete appointments with new patients seeking primary care, 23 days for specialist care and 25 days for mental health care.
Now, the average wait time for speciality care is 7.43 days, compared to the national average of 7.48 days, and for mental health 4.9 days, which is still above the national average of 3.3 days.
“We have a lot of efforts by the administrative officers in each service and by our group practice manager that look at our wait times every single day to keep our wait times as low as we can,” Snider said. “We’ve improved there and we continue to want to have the best access available.”
Additionally, Snider said the VAMC has developed programs not only in primary care but also in mental health that allows physicians to see patients on the same day they call to be seen.
“If they call this morning, ‘I need to be seen today. I have to be seen today,’ we see them today,” he said. “We have that availability, as well as our efforts to bring waiting times as low as we can get them.”
While the wait times for primary and speciality care have decreased by over 60 percent, and over 80 percent for mental health, Snider said there’s more room for improvement, and the VAMC’s next step toward that goal is to add more staff to add even more accessibility.
“We are in the process of hiring more mental health staff,” he said. “As late as (Wednesday), I spoke to our psychiatry chief, our associate chief of staff for mental health and gave him some ideas on how we might improve our hiring practices and bring on even more mental health staff.”
The VA is also looking to hire two orthopedic surgeons, two vascular surgeons, a nephrologist, gastroenterologists, cardiologists, mid-levels and chiropractors, among other needed positions, both replacements for retirees and new positions within the facility.
However, Snider said hiring is a challenging task for VAs and other medical centers alike across the country.
“In the VA, not only the VA but in all of federal government, there’s a law that nobody can make more than the president,” Snider said.
The president’s salary, at $400,000, is significantly less than what a physician can commonly make in the private sector “at $600,000, $700,000, $800,000 or even $1 million. That’s a common number for many specialists,” Snider said.
“That’s something that is a big challenge for us to find someone who will work for less than they can make somewhere else, but we are fortunate we can get people who are that dedicated to veterans and to their home state of West Virginia,” he said. “Many of our doctors are West Virginians, and they like to stay here and take care of their fellow West Virginians.”
The next town hall meeting at the Louis A. Johnson VAMC will be held in September at a date and time to be determined.