New rating system shows where the Hampton VA Medical Center must improve
By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press | Published: January 16, 2020
HAMPTON, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Veterans in Hampton Roads and across the country have a new set of tools to rate their local VA medical center and compare it to nearby private hospitals.
For the Hampton VA Medical Center, the new rating system confirms what officials inside and outside the institution have said for some time. Veterans seeking first-time appointments face wait times well above average, but satisfaction increases once they become regular patients.
All three VA medical centers in Virginia — Hampton, Hunter Holmes McGuire VA hospital in Richmond and the Salem VA Medical Center — generally rank below local private health care systems in overall ratings, according to the new system.
Hampton VA officials said Wednesday that part of that rating is based on customer satisfaction surveys that had relatively small samples. Also, drilling down beneath the overall rating shows that Hampton ranks higher in specific areas, such as catheter-related urinary tract infections.
Comparisons to nearby hospitals can be especially relevant because federal law allows veterans to bypass the VA system and seek care in the private sector under certain circumstances.
The VA rolled out this new rating system — which can be seen on the Hampton medical center’s website — just last month, while announcing it will discontinue its old star-rating system.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the old tool — where hospitals received one to five stars — didn’t consider geography, population characteristics or what services each medical center offered. And it didn’t allow for private sector comparisons.
“This change will make it easier for veterans to choose the best possible care close to home, when and where they need it,” Wilkie said.
Veterans can bypass the VA system under terms of the VA MISSION Act, signed into law in June 2018. Drive times and wait times are common reasons why veterans might be eligible to seek out a private hospital instead.
To find out more, go to missionact.va.gov.
How Hampton fared
New patients seeking primary or routine care at Hampton face a wait time of 50 days, easily the longest among the three Virginia veterans hospitals. The wait time is 22 days at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA hospital in Richmond and 21 days at the Salem VA Medical Center.
The national average is about 21 days.
Reducing wait times for new patients has been an on-again, off-again challenge. Hampton officials say the rate of increase in its workload was nearly four times the national average from 2011 to 2014, and continues to be high. The hospital has also struggled with staffing shortages, which are not uncommon at VA hospitals.
In December, Sen. Mark R. Warner visited Hampton to meet with David Collins, the new director. Warner said he wasn’t satisfied with patient wait times but expressed confidence that Collins could right the ship.
Hampton has had previous success reducing wait times. In 2015, it boosted hiring and cut its time to under 10 days, down from 31 days only a few months before.
Another section of the new rating system measures patient satisfaction. It’s based on veterans who report they usually or always get a primary care appointment when needed.
Hampton has an 83% satisfaction rate. This is for all patients, not just new ones, and could indicate improved scheduling once patients are in the system.
Although the VA is discontinuing its star-rating system, it will continue to use another internal tool that goes by the acronym SAIL. This assesses only VA medical centers. Under this system, Hampton ranks in the top 10% nationally in several areas, including standard mortality rates, hospital-associated infections and hospital-wide readmissions.
Want to shop around?
To test drive the new rating system for veterans hospitals, go to hampton.va.gov and look for the link “Compare Your VA facility.” It provides three options: wait times, quality of care and veteran satisfaction.
Using this system, veterans can examine any VA hospital or clinic in the country.