The nugget. (Sisters, Or.) 1994-current, April 15, 2015, Page 18, Image 18

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015 The Nugget Newspaper, Sisters, Oregon
Medical appointments for vets slow to improve
By Jeff Barnard
Associated Press
Wait times for Oregon veter-
ans seeking medical care have
been slow to improve as the
U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs struggles to hire doc-
tors and nurses.
Frustrations competing
with the private sector to fill
vacancies for staff in special-
ties and primary care in the
Portland area have been com-
pounded by the city’s status as
one of the fastest-growing VA
medical service areas in the
nation, said VA spokesman
Daniel E. Herrigstad.
Despite no active-duty
military bases in the area,
Portland is seeing a 7.3 per-
cent increase annually in new
patients, compared to 2 percent
nationwide, Herrigstad said.
“It’s just one of those
things,” he said. “We have a
lot of folks moving out to this
part of the country, many are
veterans, and many are sign-
ing up” for medical care.
The Portland service area
has been trying to fill about
20 primary care positions,
including doctors, nurses and
other staff, Herrigstad said. In
January, as part of the effort
to improve patient care, the
Portland area was authorized
nearly $34 million for 174
additional staffers, which they
aim to fill over the next two
The Associated Press
examined waiting times for
appointments at 15 VA medi-
cal facilities in Oregon as part
of a nationwide look at how
the agency has been doing
since a scandal over delays
and attempts to cover them
up led to the resignation of
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
and prompted Congress
last August to pass the
Veterans Access, Choice and
Accountability Act.
It is difficult to quan-
tify exactly how things have
changed. The VA introduced
a new method for measuring
wait times at the end of the
summer, making it impossible
to compare published wait
times now with the data VA
was releasing last spring.
But government data from
Sept. 1 through Feb. 28 is
clear: Wait times at four medi-
cal facilities in the Portland
area that account for about
half the veterans appointments
statewide have not improved
consistently, and in some cases
have gotten a little worse.
At the worst of them, an
outpatient clinic in Salem, 5.5
percent of the 20,000 appoint-
ments completed exceeded the
VA’s goal of waiting no more
than 30 days to get care. That’s
roughly double the nation-
wide average of 2.8 percent
— enough to rank the clinic
among the nation’s worst
performers when it comes to
delayed care.
The best of the four, the
Portland VA Medical Center,
missed the goal 3.6 percent
of the time on nearly 162,000
appointments. An outpatient
clinic in West Linn was 4.1
percent and an outpatient
clinic in Portland was 4.2
Second-worst overall was
an outpatient clinic in North
Bend, with 4.7 percent. The
best statewide was the La
Grande outpatient clinic,
which reported that only two
of the nearly 4,100 appoint-
ments completed took longer
than 30 days to complete.
Former Marine Corps
truck driver Greg Helstrom
of Lebanon has been having
trouble scheduling an MRI
to see what is wrong with his
“Waiting for specialty
stuff takes a long time, but as
far as your normal checkups
and stuff like that, it all goes
good,” he said.
That feeling is echoed by
Frank Blair of Springfield,
an Army infantry vet who
served two tours in Vietnam
and now helps vets navigate
the medical bureaucracy as
an accredited service officer
for the American Legion and
Vietnam Veterans of America.
“It’s specialty clinics
everybody is having problems
with,” he said. “You can build
a lot of facilities, but can you
staff them?”
New facilities were com-
ing on line even before the
The Salem clinic opened
last year. A new clinic in
Eugene is scheduled to open
next year. And the Roseburg
VA Medical Center has a new
residential care facility for
dementia patients.
But hiring personnel
remains a problem. In the
Portland area, the 174 posi-
tions the VA is trying to fill
includes 29 physicians, 50
nurses, and 58 support person-
nel, Herrigstad said.
Roseburg is recruiting 44
new people, and is starting a
system to offer patients video
consultations with medical
staff in Boise, Idaho, but it’s
having trouble finding staff-
ers who want to live in a rural
area, spokeswoman Debbie
Mican said.
AP writer Sheila V Kumar
contributed to this report from
powell Butte
man charged
in estranged
Sheriff’s deputies arrested a
Powell Butte man accused of
shooting his estranged wife
during a domestic dispute.
Undersheriff John Gautney
says 41-year-old John Knox
Heere was arrested Thursday
morning and charged with
attempted murder and other
Gautney told KTVZ that
Heere fired a shot that went
through a car windshield
and hit Annette Harless in
the upper arm. Harless was
taken to the hospital by a pri-
vate party.
The husband was lodged
at the Crook County jail on
$120,000 bail.
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