Denver VA Hospital Delays Surgeries Due To Doctor Shortage

According to current data, the U.S. needs about 52,000 more primary care physicians by 2025 to meet its healthcare needs. But officials at Denver’s veterans hospital have another pressing medical matter: a critical shortage of anesthesiologists.

Despite salary offerings reaching as high as $400,000, the Denver Post reports that dozens of surgeries have had to be rescheduled or postponed, often multiple times.

Back in July, the facility had been cited as having some of the worst wait lists in the country.

The hospital employs eight anesthesiologists and eight nurse anesthetists. Still, they’re short of the demand needed to accommodate all the surgeries, which currently total about 380 per month, according to a spokesperson. They also noted that some staff members have left to pursue other jobs in addition to taking maternity and paternity 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, but was unable to offer any examples.

There are 5,564 registered hospitals in the United States, and many of them report common issues of overcrowding and excess wait times. The VA hospital’s waiting time during fiscal 2017 for surgery for ‘established’ patients is 9.5 days. This exceeds the national average, which is currently at 5.8 days.

“Any delay we are certainly concerned about,” said Dr. Ellen Mangione, the chief of staff for the Eastern Colorado Health System, which operates Denver VA Medical Center.

In total, around 13.5% of all appointments at ECHCS had a longer than 30-day wait, according to federal data, ranking it the worst in the nation. Back in 2011, however, the VA set a goal of making sure each veteran is seen by a doctor within 14 days.

Many veterans cite primary care and dentistry as having the worst wait times. Navy veteran and Denver resident Al Montoya says that he has become used to waiting up to a period of three full months in order to see a primary care doctor at Denver’s facility.

“Primary care takes longest … I know they’re doing the best that they can. They’re very good people here,” he said.

Ultimately, one can only hope the situation will improve as surgery need become more urgent.

“VA facilities learn from each other by sharing information and best practices,” said Schabert. “But ultimately, every VA health care system is unique in a number of ways, including the demographics of its veteran population, the geography it covers, the number and size of clinics and the number and certifications of its health care professionals.”

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