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The Inspector General of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department has issued a report highly critical of emergency call handling by the Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in San Diego.

The report says 20 agents are employed by the healthcare system in a Mission Valley office to “answer calls from patients who may want to renew medications, leave messages for primary care providers, discuss symptoms with advice nurses, schedule primary care appointments, obtain laboratory results, or request transfer of care.”

Emergency calls are supposed to be referred by the agents for evaluation by healath care professionals, but according to the report, an unidentified whistleblower charged last May that “patients reporting emergency symptoms on the call line were at risk for delays in care and poor clinical outcomes.”

The complaint included allegations that a “supervisor instructed an agent to bypass the advice nurses, causing a serious delay in care that could have lead to death,” and that “Inexperienced and poorly trained… agents, without clinical knowledge or an understanding of basic medical terminology, were managing clinical calls.”

According to the audit: “We substantiated the allegation that … agents were inexperienced and lacked appropriate training.

"Failure to provide training on the basic competencies such as symptomatic and emergent call documentation and routing, and medical terminology put patients at risk.”

Subsequent to the investigation, the report says, VA’s San Diego managers “concurred with the findings and recommendations and provided an acceptable action plan.

“We will follow up on the planned actions until they are completed,” the audit says.

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Comments

monaghan Feb. 15, 2012 @ 6:21 p.m.

The least among us get shafted.

First it's the utterly dysfunctional public assistance (food stamp) phones run by the County Department of Health and Human Services under the County Supervisors. Now it's the San Diego VA's emergency phone system that's sub-par.

Somebody ought to look into these call centers -- like, are they outsourced? what are the responders' qualifications? who oversees the folks who answer the phones?(Or not, as in the case of the County.) If they're anything like the illiterates who lately have been conducting political phone polls, the clients are in trouble.

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SurfPuppy619 Feb. 15, 2012 @ 7:51 p.m.

what are the responders' qualifications? ==

All gov jobs are given out on nepotism and cronyism, how else do you explain $75K janitor/secretary/street cleaner jobs. I am sure these call center people comp at least $50K-$70K in total comp. / / who oversees the folks who answer the phones? == Idiots. Once again nepotism and cronyism controls who is promoted.

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Visduh Feb. 15, 2012 @ 8:26 p.m.

If this bothers you, then you should be doubly alarmed at the prospect of universal health care run by the federal government. This VA health care is the closest thing we now have to American socialized medicine. My own experiences with the La Jolla calling center have not been all that satisfactory. Someone decided that they don't want me to call my primary care physician at the local Oceanside clinic directly, but to use the calling center, which takes messages and forwards them back to No County.

With all the talk about the excellent care being provided to the veterans, old and new, by the VA, whenever some outsiders take a close look, it doesn't look so excellent after all. But the US spends $ billions on this "system." The VA Desert Pacific Healthcare Network, covering So Cal and southern Nevada, puts out a fancy, slick paper piece every quarter that is most self-laudatory. To read it you would think that they have just about the most perfect healthcare offerings imaginable. But then reality intrudes, doesn't it?

Aw, shucks.

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rms_sandiego Feb. 16, 2012 @ 10:50 a.m.

The VA Call Center is not outsourced and its clerical staff salaries are in the low to mid $30K range. A large percentage are veterans.

The entire report is at http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-11-03074-57.pdf

It talks about how the problem came about when the call center staffing was increased in order to address response times and there was a gap in getting the new staff trained up.

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Visduh Feb. 18, 2012 @ 11:27 a.m.

Thank you for your bureaucratic response, parroting the VA line that makes excuses for things like its inability or unwillingness to run a simple thing like a call center properly. Do you rely on the VA for your medical care, or do you use it at all? Are you satisfied with that bunch of excuse-making?

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