SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Weeks after a critical analysis revealed the Sacramento VA Hospital was among the worst in the state, the director of the hospital is defends it against what he says is growing demand.
When he returned from Vietnam, James Whitaker didn’t think he needed medical attention. But his wife says things changed when his Parkinson’s and dementia worsened.READ MORE: Person Suspected Of Shooting At Roseville Police Officer After Attempted Traffic Stop
Qualifying for benefits has been nothing short of a headache, and the result is a wait that seems like forever to see a doctor.
His story represents the latest challenge at the VA. The man in charge of the system in Northern California says he’s losing sleep trying to fix the system.
“If you’re looking for perfection—so no patient ever waiting over 30 days for anything—I think it’s a moving target,” said hospital director David Stockwell.
He’s been on the job for about a year and half and has seen demand for care far outpace supply.
“We are growing, however; we’re adding additional specialists,” he said.
A recent report from the Associate Press showed the Sacramento VA Hospital has the highest percentage of patients waiting longer than 30 days for appointments.
“It is a sensitive issue, but I don’t think it’s a fair portrayal of the VA to say we’re failing our patients,” he said.
To prove himself, Stockwell invited CBS13 inside the areas with the longest wait times—specialty care units like orthopedics and surgery. That’s where we met another Vietnam veteran, Dennis Gilmore.READ MORE: Big Rig Ends Up Perched Precariously On Guardrail After Crash On I-5 In Woodland
“They’ve been very good to me,” Gilmore said. “They’ve been excellent.”
That’s the kind of satisfaction Stockwell takes pride in.
“Even when the story came out it was 6 percent of our patients waiting over 30 days. Now it’s 4 percent of patients waiting over 30 days,” he said.
What they would like to see is the glass half full, with 95 percent of patients being seen within 30 days.
Dr. Scott Hundahl, the chief of surgery says patients who wait are not considered acute by the VA.
“We treat those patients immediately,” he said. “We’d love for it to be a hundred percent but that’s just not feasible.”
By the end of the summer, 270 new doctors, nurses and clinical staff will join the team.
“We’re here to serve the veteran,” Stockwell said. “They’ve paid the price to give us the freedom we enjoy.”
A patient advocate offered to help Whitaker, and we learned most of the staff at the VA are veterans themselves.MORE NEWS: Sacramento Mother Of 4 Killed After Stopping To Help Pedestrian Who Had Also Been Hit
The VA hospital still has about 2,300 patients waiting over 30 days for care. But with the new Choice Act, any patient who waits too long will be covered if they choose another primary physician outside the VA.