Overton Brooks Patient says V.A. is lying about access to care - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Overton Brooks Patient says V.A. is lying about access to care

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SHREVEPORT, La - So far we've brought you a whistle blower employee, and then, two weeks later, you heard the official V.A. response. But it's said that there are three sides to every story. “We're not challenged for access at Overton Brooks, we can provide same day access, that's why we're encouraging veterans to enroll into our system.” Those are the words from Interim Director at Overton Brooks V.A. Medical Center, Toby Mathew, during the news conference. 

 Michael Stewart, a - veteran of the US Navy - has been diagnosed with depressive, bipolar and anxiety disorders. He's been a patient at Overton Brooks for years, in different areas of the hospital, and is an active participant in group support sessions, which he’s very grateful for. But in recent years, he's struggled to get an appointment with a psychiatrist to discuss his medications. He watched the June 26 news conference live, and was quite upset.

 “Honestly it made me angry. It pissed me off. That was just a straight lie. Because it wasn't true, I was one of those people who hadn't gotten appointments, and I wasn't disconnected…I was there, physically, every Wednesday, sometimes more than that,” says Stewart. “I wasn't refusing service, but no one called me. There were no letters sent. Nobody even called to see if the medication was working, if anything needed to be adjusted.” “They specifically said we do not have anyone in this position, we do not have the doctors to handle every patient we have right now,” says Stewart. “Those medications, they're powerful and they needed monitoring. I needed someone to come in and say how are you doing, are you okay with it, because honestly I wasn't okay with it.” 

His most recent appointment was this past May, a 15 minute appointment with a physician's assistant. The last time he saw a doctor was in August of 2013. But it's not for a lack of trying. 

“That was me physically going to the window and talking to the secretary who did the appointments, and I did that at least 3 to 4 times. And when I call in for prescription refills, I would ask for an appointment. I was physically active in that pursuit to get that appointment that didn't happen for how many months.”

Nine months. About 270 days. 

According to V.A. officials, “Any appointments that are scheduled beyond the 30 days for services that need to be seen sooner, we have relationships with our community partners and health care institutions, to get them into various hospitals to be seen,” says Mr. Mathew. “ We give authorization for our veterans to get out into the community to get that care." 

We asked Stewart is that was ever an option presented to him, or something he knew about. “I didn't know that was an option for mental health, or even primary care, I didn't know that was an option they offered."  UPDATE: KTBS learned from Overton Brooks that Fee Basis or Care in the Community is not currently an option for outpatient mental health (but it is for inpatient mental health services.) 

So Stewart was left waiting. His name - just sitting on a paper list with many other veterans - something he saw with his own two eyes. 

“The secretary that I was standing in front of, she said well we need to see if I can schedule you an appointment, and let's see if you're on this list. She pulls out this list that's all stapled together. It's 5-7 pages of veterans names and social security numbers, I mean it was 5-7 pages of it, and I was not on that list. So she leans back and talks to her neighbor,” says Stewart. “She asked the other person if I was on her set of lists, and she brought it over, and it was another list, that was pages, it was 5-7 pages, it was a packet, and of course they found my name on the list, and they said okay, we'll put you down for an appointment, and they marked my name down, they put a check beside it, and that's all that happened.” 

Not exactly what was adamantly affirmed recently by V.A. officials. 

“None of these people are walking up to the desk or calling, and asking for an appointment ,” says Dr. Reba Glidewell, Assistant Chief of Mental Health Services. “Here's a person who has been diagnosed with these particular issues, has had suicidal ideations,” says Stewart, of himself. “And knowing that that's my history, I still went, from August to May, with nothing." 

Stewart was nervous about coming forward, as he does receive care from the hospital, and when he does, he’s been pleased with it. But he decided to come forward, in hopes to push some change. 

“I want them to tell the truth, that's it. I want them to be honest. And stop with the bureaucratic cover-ups to make them look better. Just tell the truth. You pull a list of names and socials outside of the regular system - it becomes a secret list. It's a list, I saw it, it's there. Just stop covering it up, because if you cover it up, it can't get better. You can't handle it properly if you're still not admitting the problem."

We reached out to V.A. officials about Stewart's care.  Because of privacy laws,  they can't discuss any patients' information.  They say they have 17.6 full-time mental health prescribing providers who handle medication reviews for patients.  They clarified that they do not send veterans into the community for outpatient mental health services, which was not made clear in the news conference.

UPDATE: Overton Brooks has told KTBS that they have recently beefed up the number of prescribing providers in the Mental Health department. According to officials, "Overton Brooks hired 2 new full-time psychiatrists and 10 part-time consulting psychiatrists.  We currently have one open psychiatrist position and 3 Nurse Practitioner positions open. Psychiatrists are extremely difficult to recruit to the VA, as the supply/demand ratio is not favorable for VAMC employment."    

Here's the timeline of events related to the V.A. Scandal:

April 2013 – According to information provided to KTBS from Senator David Vitter’s Office, this is when Overton Brooks emails claim the process of assigning Mental Health Care Veterans to providers began. 

January 2014 – VA Scandal in Phoenix breaks in News Media 

February 26, 2014– Internal Email (released to Sen. Vitter’s Office) with our first documented mention of “a list” at Overton Brooks. It said “as we all know, there are a “few” (2400) patients that need to be scheduled. They are currently on multiple lists and some on paper.” In this same email, the employee asks for 2 hours of comp time to start scheduling these patients. 

February 27, 2014 – Comp time denied for scheduling/assigning these patients (per emails released to Sen. Vitter’s office.)

May 13, 2014 – National VA Audit Team at Overton Brooks June 9, 2014 – Access to Care numbers released.

June 12, 2014 – KTBS story with whistle blower, Shea Wilkes, first airs
3 part Investigative Series on allegations of 1, Wait List, 2, Manipulation of Measures, 3, Culture Inside the VA.

June 19, 2014 – Caddo Commission Veterans Affairs Committee Meets

June 26, 2014 – VA Press Conference

June 27, 2014 – Senator Vitter meets with Overton Brooks Officials

June 27, 2014 – Louisiana Legislature hears from David LeCerte  

July 1, 2014 – Representative John Fleming, MD tours Overton Brooks

July 2, 2014 – Patient, Michael Stewart, tells his side of the story. 

Additional Reading/Information - · A VA survey of Mental Health Employees with responses in the employees’ own words. What appears to be the take-away, from many KTBS employees working on this story for weeks, from the information we received from Shea Wilkes, the whistle blower Overton Brooks employee, from the patients who have called us, from other sources in the community with knowledge of the VA, and from extensive Government reports about the VA over the years, including the link to this survey, is that there are hard working employees who care about the veterans and are trying to provide good care, but there are also indications of administrators who are very focused on performance measures and numbers. And those measures and numbers often give points for getting an initial appointment scheduled, but do not adequately take into account the need for follow-up appointments in Mental Health. There are also indicators that more resources, more prescribing providers, are needed. 

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