Thanks to an employee whistleblower and some investigative reporting from 9News’ Melissa Blasius, we now know that there was a cover up to hide lengthy wait lists in Denver. Patients at the Denver VA were subjected to mistreatment similar to the “care” that was doled out at the infamous Phoenix VA during the scandal that ultimately cost Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. And now, the chief of the Denver VA announced her retirement, and admitted she knew about the wait lists the whole time.
At issue in Denver were unauthorized waitlists that covered up the closely-watched metric of wait time before an appointment. So how does an unauthorized wait list work and why are they so bad?
For various reasons, demand for certain VA medical services results in backlogs for certain in-demand procedures and treatments. Combine this phenomenon with the fact that wait times were one of the criteria that affected bonuses for VA leadership and you have the perfect recipe for bad actors to manipulate the system at the expense of our veterans.
If you were in a managerial position and your goal was to reduce the average patient wait time, but you didn’t want to crack the whip on your employees and demand greater efficiencies/a stronger sense of urgency on the job, one way to achieve your objective would be to simply reduce the size of the backlog by not putting all of the patients on the official list. This would maintain a “shadow list” where patients linger for months before going on the official wait lists, which are strictly monitored by hospital leadership.
And with that bit of creative accounting, senior leaders are blindsided, veterans are delayed the care that many of them desperately need, and in some cased veterans died while VA bureaucrats received performance-based bonuses.
It took just a few short days after this 9News report aired (in which Congressman Mike Coffman declared no confidence in Lynette Roff’s leadership) for the director who ran the Denver VA medical center for almost a decade to retire. A February 10 follow up asserted that Roff knew “for years” about an unauthorized wait list at the Denver VA, and collected cash bonuses in years that these lists were discovered.
Sadly, Blasius mentions in her story that some Denver veterans died while waiting for appointments, and her upcoming dispatches will delve into that issue. We will be watching.