BALTIMORE - In June, 83-year-old Edward Jolson said he was just a number. He was a number on a wait list that he describes as unending.
"The workers have an attitude of, 'Okay, next.' And I hate to be next. I feel like I should be somebody. And that's all I did, I voiced at that particular time, the urge to be somebody," said Jolson, an Army veteran who served in the Korean War.
It would be three months before Jolson could be seen by his primary care physician within the VA. At the time, the average wait for veterans already in the system was around four days.
CONTINUING COVERAGE | The VA Maryland Health Care System
"Tell me what's going on. Show me what's going on," Jolson said. "I was totally confused by half the things that happened. Many, many people treated me very fairly. Many, many people looked at a piece of paper, looked at me and said, 'Step back, please.' And I did."
He stepped back and his daughter, Robyn, stepped up.
"First appointment they could see us was on September 10 at 1:30 p.m. He's a veteran. He didn't say I can't fight for my country tomorrow, you have to wait three months," Robyn Jolson said to In Focus Investigators in June.
She said a day after our June In Focus story aired, the VA contacted the family, apologizing and rescheduling his appointment for the following week.
"They started to handle me like a human being. Up to that particular point, I was not a human being. I was an entity," Jolson said.
For Jolson, it was a step out of the line he wait in for so long, a step toward getting things done.
"Do I thank them? I bless them," he said. "I'm sitting here instead of waiting for my appointment to show up in September sometime."
The VA cannot comment on specific cases, but they released a statement to In Focus Investigators regarding appointment wait times:
On August 14, the Department of Veterans Affairs released the sixth round of patient wait time data as a follow-up to the Nationwide Access Audits that were conducted in response to the allegations of inappropriate scheduling practices at some VA medical centers across the country.
The data that was released indicates that the wait times for new patients to get a primary care appointment throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System decreased from 85 days since the first report to 78 days for the most recent report. It will take a few months for the full effect of the aggressive action plan that the VA Maryland Health Care System implemented to improve patient wait times to be realized and reflected in the data; however, the 7 day reduction indicates that the plan is working.
The health care system continues to implement its action plan to improve new patient wait times for primary care appointments, including hiring additional primary care providers and support staff; re-introducing Saturday primary care clinic appointments at the Baltimore VA Medical Center; and reviewing, evaluating, and prioritizing patient needs on a daily basis to ensure that we are addressing any urgent clinical needs of our Veteran patients.
The plan also included contacting all new patients who were waiting more than 30 days for a primary care appointment to offer them an earlier clinic appointment in a VA Maryland Health Care facility or with a community partner. The VA Maryland Health Care System is doing an outstanding job in the wait times for existing patients to get primary care, specialty care and mental health care appointments.
The Access Audit for the VA Maryland Health Care System, which includes the Baltimore and Perry Point VA Medical Centers, the Loch Raven VA Community Living & Rehabilitation Center and six community based outpatient clinics located throughout the state, found no inappropriate scheduling practices and had no significant recommendations. This is a testament to the high ethical standards of the employees throughout the health care system.
The VA Maryland Health Care System continues to correct systemic problems in accessing new patients for VA health care, while assuring Maryland’s Veterans that we remain committed to providing safe, quality and compassionate health care. It is our duty and privilege to provide Veterans the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice. This is a duty we take very seriously."
Jolson has a six month follow up appointment scheduled for November.