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Audit: Northport VA appointment wait times higher than reported

A nationwide audit released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs indicates that wait times for medical and psychiatric appointments at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center are significantly longer than Northport's own figures would suggest, according to a Newsday analysis.

Data released Monday by the VA in Washington, D.C., said new patients seeking appointments for mental health issues at Northport wait an average of 25.23 days -- more than twice the 11.2 days reported by officials with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.

Northport spokesman Joe Sledge said administrators were surprised by the findings and have sought input from Washington to reconcile the discrepancy.

"Our data is a little different," Sledge said.

New patients seeking specialty medical care at Northport wait an average of 39.87 days, according to the audit -- two weeks longer than the 22.75-day average wait computed by Northport officials.

New primary care patients waited an average of 25.07 days -- more than a week longer than the 16.51-day average computed by Northport officials.

The data produced by the VA's headquarters in Washington came from a nationwide audit of its medical facilities ordered in April by then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. He ordered the audit after a manipulation of scheduling data at a VA Medical Center in Phoenix exploded into a national scandal. Shinseki resigned last month amid accusations of mismanagement.

The VA had been operating under a self-imposed requirement that all appointments be scheduled within 14 days.

As part of the audit, the VA said it was abandoning the rule because an increase in patients and limited resources had made it unrealistic. The audit released Monday showed that scheduling problems plague VA centers nationwide, with some 57,000 new patients waiting more than three months for appointments.

Of the region's five medical centers, Northport had by far the largest number of new patients who waited at least that long to be seen by a doctor: 354.

Monday's audit was not the first time Northport officials' reported performance data have come under question.

A 2008 audit by the VA's independent Office of Inspector General -- which played no role in the latest audit -- found that while Northport reported scheduling 95 percent of appointments for new patients within 30 days, Northport met that standard only 89 percent of the time.

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