UPDATED ON 6: Acting VA Secretary Visits Charlie Norwood VA Medi - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

UPDATED ON 6: Acting VA Secretary Visits Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center

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Photo of acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson speaking at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta on Thursday Photo of acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson speaking at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta on Thursday
Augusta, GA - ***UPDATED at 5:16 P.M. on Thursday, July 10th***

On Thursday, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson announced immediate actions to improve access to healthcare at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. Gibson says he's working to earn back the trust of the American people.

"When we pick up the phone and call a veteran that has been on a wait list and say, hey, we need to get you into a clinic, let's find a time, then we've taken a step to earning that trust back," Gibson said.

He says in order to fix the problems at the VA, there needs to be accountability. The acting secretary says documented instances of willful misconduct or management negligence will not be taken lightly.

"You communicate your expectations, over and over and over again in lots of different ways. And then you hold people accountable for behavior that's lined with those expectations. Pretty simple," Gibson said.

The former banker also announced expanded hours and increased overtime at the medical center, all to accelerate access to care for veterans.

"We've had our challenges here in Augusta over the last several years. Most notably, a couple of years ago, it was around gastrointestinal consultation delays. Absolutely unacceptable. That is not consistent with the standard of care, not here, and not anywhere in the VA," Gibson said.

Despite the problems at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, Gibson says other facilities are dealing with even more problems.

"This is the only VA Medical Center I have been to in the country, where space is not at the very top of the lists of constraints," Gibson said.

Gibson will continue to tour VA facilities across the country.

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***UPDATED at 2:09 P.M. on Thursday, July 10th***


The acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) visited the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta Thursday.

Sloan Gibson is heading the department until the next permanent secretary is confirmed.

The department is under fire for long wait times at VA hospitals across the nation.

Gibson held a press conference around noon. He wrapped up a town hall meeting with veterans before 11:20 a.m., but the media was not allowed into that meeting.

Gibson is here for accountability, and to make sure there is fast medical care and quality care. He says the VA has to earn back trust, which will take a while, but he believes the organization can regain trust.

Gibson also said, if misconduct or negligence is found, people will be held accountable.

Below is the text of a release from the VA giving more information on what Gibson had to say and what the expectations are for the VA:

Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson today announced additional actions to improve Veterans’ access to care at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

“No Veteran should have to wait for the care and services that they have earned and deserve,” said Acting Secretary Gibson. “The audit and the data we released last week showed the extent of the problems we face here in Augusta and across the country. We are fully committed to fixing these problems and understand that we must restore the public’s trust in the VA. More importantly, we must restore the trust of our Veterans who depend on us for care.”

In addition to the system-wide actions taken in response to the audit findings and data, Gibson outlined actions taken to accelerate access to care for Veterans served by the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center (CNVAMC), including:
  • Reaching out to all Veterans identified as waiting for care to get them off of wait lists and into clinics for medical appointments – As of July 2, they have reached more than 400 Veterans.
  • Expanding hours and increasing the use of overtime, adding evening and weekend hours to see patients. They have identified additional capability in their optometry clinic and are implementing a Saturday clinic starting this month. This will create 12 more appointments each session.
  • Coordinating with the community to increase available services in certain specialties such as Ear, Nose and Throat, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and Neurology.
  • The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is ensuring that $250,880 from within VA’s budget specifically to accelerate access to care be made available to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.
  • At the direction of Acting Secretary Gibson, CNVAMC is increasing the use of established contracts with community partners to schedule Veterans waiting to be seen by a doctor.
On June 9th, the VA announced the following actions in response to the nationwide Access Audit findings and data:

Establishing New Patient Satisfaction Measurement Program
Gibson has directed VHA to immediately begin developing a new patient satisfaction measurement program to provide real-time, robust, location-by-location information on patient satisfaction, to include satisfaction data of those Veterans attempting to access VA healthcare for the first time.  This program will be developed with input from Veterans Service Organizations, outside healthcare organizations, and other entities. This will ensure VA collects an additional set of data – directly from the Veteran’s perspective – to understand how VA is doing throughout the system.

Holding Senior Leaders Accountable
Where audited sites identify concerns within the parent facility or its affiliated clinics, VA will trigger administrative procedures to ascertain the appropriate follow-on personnel actions for specific individuals.

Ordering an Immediate VHA Central Office and VISN Office Hiring Freeze
Gibson has ordered an immediate hiring freeze at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) central office in Washington D.C. and the 21 VHA Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) regional offices, except for critical positions to be approved by the Secretary on a case-by-case basis.  This action will begin to remove bureaucratic obstacles and establish responsive, forward leaning leadership.

Removing 14-Day Scheduling Goal
VA is eliminating the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance plans. This action will eliminate incentives to engage in inappropriate scheduling practices or behaviors.

Increasing Transparency by Posting Data Twice-Monthly
At the direction of the Acting Secretary, VHA will post regular updates to the access data released today at the middle and end of each month at VA.gov. Twice-monthly data updates will enhance transparency and provide the most immediate information to Veterans and the public on Veterans access to quality healthcare.

Initiating an Independent, External Audit of Scheduling Practices
Gibson has also directed that an independent, external audit of system-wide VHA scheduling practices be performed.

Utilizing High Performing Facilities to Help Those That Need Improvement
VA will formalize a process in which high performing facilities provide direct assistance and share best practices with facilities that require improvement on particular medical center quality and efficiency, also known as SAIL, performance measures.

Suspending Performance Awards
VA has suspended all VHA senior executive performance awards for FY2014.

Gibson’s visit to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center is part of his continuing site visits to VA facilities across the country where he is hearing directly from Veterans and employees about obstacles to providing timely, quality care, and how VA can immediately address them.

WJBF News Channel 6's Mike Miller attended the press conference and he will have more on the visit during our Thursday newscasts.

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***POSTED at 11:40 A.M. on Thursday, July 10th***

The acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is visiting the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta Thursday.
Sloan Gibson is heading the department until the next permanent secretary is confirmed.

The department is under fire for long wait times at VA hospitals across the nation.

WJBF News Channel 6's Mike Miller is attending a press conference where Gibson is speaking and he will have more on the visit during our Thursday newscasts.
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