Many surgeries at VA delayed
An anesthesiologist shortage is affecting the hospital noted for its long waiting lists.
A shortage of anesthesiologists at Denver’s veterans hospital — despite salary offers reaching as high as $400,000 a year — has forced a delay in dozens of surgeries just months after the institution was tagged with some of the nation’s worst waiting lists for care.
Though the hospital employs eight anesthesiologists and eight nurse anesthetists, they’re short of the complement needed to meet surgery demands that run about 380 operations a month, a spokeswoman said, noting some staffers have left for other jobs as well as taken paternity and maternity leaves.
“Currently we have had approximately 65 to 90 nonemergent surgeries rescheduled or postponed due to a shortage of anesthesiology staff,” VA spokeswoman Kristen Schabert said. She offered no examples.
VA data show the average wait time for new-patient surgical appointments at the seven facilities that make up the Eastern Colorado Health Care System during the 2017 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 is about 21.6 days, which is slightly better than the national average of 22.7 days. The average wait time at just the Denver facility is 18.6 days.
VA’s waiting time in fiscal 2017 for surgery for established patients is 9.5 days, longer than the national average of 5.8 days, according to the VA. It is 8.3 days at the Denver facility.
The latest situation was first reported by FOX-31 News, and it’s an extension of a problem that’s plagued the Denver facility since the summer.
In July, The Denver Post reported that wait times for primary care medical appointments at veterans facilities in eastern Colorado and the Denver area were among the worst in the nation, and that Front Range veterans have seen little improvement in the three years since a national scandal erupted over the problem.
Colorado congressmen assailed the agency for its continued — and worsening — issues over veteran care, especially after the VA battled other controversies such as the massive delays and cost overruns in constructing a new $1.7 billion facility in Aurora, which is expected to open in the spring.
Officials of VA’s Eastern Colorado Health Care System at the time said critical shortages in medical personnel – including the doctors and nurses that are at the root of the surgery delays faced today – made it difficult to keep up with the growing demand Colorado has seen from an increasing veteran population.
Sometimes, chief of staff Dr. El-
len Mangione said, veterans would rather wait for a familiar face at the VA than be seen more immediately by a doctor outside the system, even when given the choice to do so.
The eastern system had a 16 percent vacancy rate — there were 336 physicians — during the summer crisis, even though it was offering some primary care doctors as much as $200,000 a year in salary and additional training. Schabert did not immediately have current vacancy figures.
“Our leadership has been supportive and we were able to up our salary offerings to remain competitive,” Schabert said of the search for anesthesiology professionals, “but … Denver is a competitive market.”
Until hires are made, the eastern system is contracting with temporary outside physicians, known as a “locum,” to fill the gaps, Schabert said.
And the eastern system is no longer among the nation’s worst waiting periods for an appointment to see a primary care physician, VA data show, although it still ranks high with an 11-day average compared with a 4.8-day national average.
It’s been replaced by the VA health care system in Grand Junction, where the average wait for a primary care visit is 18 days, data show. That system is nearly one-tenth the size of Denver’s.