Overton Brooks' Patient's appointment cancellation causes concer - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Overton Brooks' Patient's appointment cancellation causes concern

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SHREVEPORT, La - We've been told by many veterans that they receive quality care at the V.A. hospital in Shreveport. But for some getting an appointment to see their caregivers is the challenge. According to our V.A., they do not have a problem getting patients seen quickly - and the numbers they report echo that conclusion. We’ve uncovered concerns, however, over how their numbers look so good - while patients are still waiting to be seen. 

“Certainly from my viewpoint here, as a veteran, as a physician, the care here is excellent.” Congressman John Fleming, M.D. (R-LA 4th District) toured Overton Brooks recently, and concluded what some veterans have told us, that there are good providers and care at Overton Brooks. “The competency level is very, very consistent with the very best care that I’ve witnessed both in V.A. and military hospital systems and outside in the private sector. The staff seems to be plenty adequate." 

And as for employees manipulating scheduling practices and wait times, he says “I have no indication that that has occurred here." But we've uncovered indications of a different story. 

“It wasn't there one day, the next day it was there, and it said canceled. I didn't even know that the appointment existed." 

We introduced you to Michael Stewart last week. He's a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and a patient at Overton Brooks. He uses a V.A. website to check on appointments and manage his care. After asking to see a psychiatrist for nine months, you can imagine his surprise when he saw an appointment with a Dr. Gabriel on his record - but only after the fact. He says it was scheduled and canceled without his ever knowing about it. 

“I did log in on June 23rd,” says Michael Stewart, “and the appointment was not there. We have a record of that. The appointment of the 26th with mental health was not listed on there. So I didn't know that that appointment was forthcoming, that it even existed. When I logged in on the 26th, to do the interaction with my primary care, it was there, and it was canceled." 

Nationally, government reports have documented that one way to game the system is to schedule an appointment and then cancel it. If the system thinks the veteran canceled the appointment, it does not count against the hospital's wait time numbers. Knowing that made Stewart's mystery appointment concerning. This appointment was one he wanted and needed, so he says canceling is not something he would've done. 

“I didn't know the appointment existed so how could I cancel it." 

"Normally when you get an appointment, a letter is also generated, and is sent to you in the mail."  Stewart says his contact information hasn’t changed, in fact, he still gets letters all the time for his group therapy sessions. 

UPDATE: **Overton Brooks did provide answers to these questions, after our air time.  According to Overton Brooks, "this appointment was scheduled on May 6, 2014 and was canceled on May 21, 2014.  The reason stated was appointment no longer required because patient is seeing a different provider with an earlier appointment time."  The patient did have an appointment with a Physician's Assistant before the 6/26/14 date.  Overton Brooks also replied that, "letters are sent out to Veterans who have scheduled appointments in our VistA system and is mailed out 2-4 weeks in advance of a scheduled appointment.  In addition, our recall system has audio care that also provides a reminder to patients via telephone."  If Michael Stewart's appointment with Dr. Gabriel for 6/26/14 was canceled on 5/21/14, as Overton Brooks says, then the 2-4 week window for the letter to be mailed was never reached and therefore no letter would be expected to be mailed. **

Stewart isn't the only veteran who contacted us with this problem. Betty Rogers, of Fouke, Arkansas, says her husband has struggled to get an appointment with his cardiologist at Overton Brooks. George, a truck driver, is only in town for a few days at a time. So when he has an appointment, they make sure he makes it. 

“In the last 11 years, he's got to see his cardiologist one time, and that was 6 months after he got his first stent put in,” says Roger. “And he told George I want to see you every 6 months, so we tried to make appointments every 6 months, and they get canceled, or they put him down as a no-show, or they say we cancel it. We don't cancel those, those are too important." 

And getting there from where they live in Fouke, an hour away, is not easy. 

“We drive from here to there, and sometimes we don't really have the money for that, we have to take it out of groceries, or my medication fund, or we just have to have somebody trust us that we'll pay them later, and they'll take us down there. When he has to pay somebody to take us down there, and they tell us his appointment has been canceled. He wants to know why."

Sometimes the V.A.'s explanation for the cancellation is upsetting. 

"'Oh you canceled it,' says Betty of the schedulers. “And I ask her, 'well why did I cancel,' and [they respond] 'oh well we don't know you didn't tell us.'"

KTBS has reached out to Overton Brooks, asking for a sit down interview. That request has not yet been granted. 

“They're trying to change their numbers to make it look better,” says Stewart. “So the system that they're accountable for, reflects that the appointments are being made. They can justify it, and say ‘oh well the vet canceled it, they called in and canceled it.’ Well if you don't know about the appointment how can you cancel it.” 

Taxpayers want to believe they have built a V.A. system to provide prompt, quality care for our military veterans. So if there is manipulation of wait times, if appointments are being scheduled and canceled to manipulate the numbers, it would be very difficult to figure out if more providers are needed or if vets need to be sent outside the system for care. 

Since our first report about Mr. Stewart, he went up to the V.A. and was able to get an appointment with a medical doctor for the end of July.

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