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LA veterans waiting too long for medical care

Ann Brown is the new director of the V.A. West L.A. Medical Center. She says hiring more health care providers will bring wait times down for L.A. vets in getting doctors appointments.
Ann Brown is the new director of the V.A. West L.A. Medical Center. She says hiring more health care providers will bring wait times down for L.A. vets in getting doctors appointments.
Department of Veterans Affairs

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In Los Angeles, at the biggest veterans hospital in the country, former service members are waiting too long to get seen for care—something the hospital's new director, Ann Brown, says it's her top priority to fix. 

Brown said her hospital's wait times lag the national average. Veterans in L.A. wait about six days to see a primary care doctor and eight days for a specialist. The national average is about five days for primary care and six for specialists. For mental health care appointments, L.A. wait times lag the nation by 30 percent. 

The issue of wait times has been a scandal for the Department of Veterans Affairs ever since April 2014, when it came to light that the V.A.'s Phoenix hospital had been manipulating data to make wait times appear much shorter than they actually were.

The V.A. secretary at the time resigned, and Congress appropriated more than $16 billion so the department could build more health care facilities and hire more doctors, nurses, and other staff.

At the V.A. West Los Angeles Medical Center, Brown said she has about 5,400 employees but is looking to hire more, a key to shortening the wait for a doctor. 

"We have had a nursing hiring fair in this room a couple of weeks ago," Brown said. "We were immediately able to make job offers to about 90 nurses." 

Brown's spent two decades in the V.A. and said the system has only gotten busier.
 
"We’ve seen an increase in the number of appointments," Brown said. "We saw over a million of them last year."

Brown also said she wanted to expand the number of appointments available to veterans, as well as something the VA calls "tele-health."

 That's where a patient sees a provider through a video teleconference—akin to having a video chat on Skype. For patients who live further away from the hospital in Westwood, they could access the chat at a "community based outpatient clinic" nearer to them, and connect with specialty care at the Westwood hospital that isn't available at their satellite clinics.

Additionally, Brown said she wants to "provide some structure" to the hospital which has seen many leadership changes in recent years. She said she's working on revamping the organizational structure of the hospital and its internal communications.