Northampton VA ranked 10th worst in country for wait time

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – The Central Western Massachusetts Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northampton is ranked one of the top ten worst in the country for wait times. 22News looked at where the hospital is falling behind.

The last time 22News went to the Northampton VA, they said there were no wait time problems. We went back on Tuesday to find out what had changed.

67 days: That’s the average wait time for specialty care at the Northampton VA, ranking it tenth worst nationwide. Workers admit they’re understaffed, especially in optometry and urology.

“Our current urologist here is only here 2 days a week so it makes it difficult and people do come in and we get a lot of phone calls of people wanting to come other days a week, and we just can’t do it,” said Cathy Reynolds, scheduler for specialty care.

On Tuesday, Congress voted unanimously for the VA to pay for veterans treatment off campus.

“Send our veterans into the community facilities and pay for that care, Cooley Dickinson, Bay State, maybe even local optometrists,” said Amy Gaskill, spokeswoman for the Central Western Veterans Affairs Medical Center, based in Northampton.

Gaskill said four primary care doctors were just hired, each caring for 1,350 veterans among their 6 facilities: the central hub in Northampton, and five clinics from Worcester to the New York border.

Reynolds told 22news it’s just as frustrating for her as it is the veterans to see a full room of patients in urgent care and just one doctor to treat them all.

A recent VA audit of the facility did find that 91 percent of veterans got primary care visits in less than 30 days, which is considered acceptable.

“I see a lot of my friends donating their time and helping out up there and you know it seems like a pretty nice, laid-back place,” said Vietnam Veteran Jim Proulx of South Hadley. He said he even considered moving on campus in his old age because he had such a good experience there.

Workers believe if the clinic was bigger, it could offer more resources. They don’t believe they should be compared on the same scale as bigger hospitals like the one in Boston or other big cities nationwide.

At 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, VA employees met to go over ways to improve their numbers, hopeful things would noticeably improve by July 1, 2014.

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