SPECIAL REPORT: Kentucky's VA facilities receive praise as well - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SPECIAL REPORT: Kentucky's VA facilities receive praise as well as complaints

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Some of the problems at Louisville's VA Hospital on Zorn Avenue have been blamed on the aging building. A new VA Center is being built in the city's east end. Some of the problems at Louisville's VA Hospital on Zorn Avenue have been blamed on the aging building. A new VA Center is being built in the city's east end.
Dr. Marylee Rothschild, the interim director at Louisville's VA Medical Center, says the number of patients needing care has increased dramatically. Dr. Marylee Rothschild, the interim director at Louisville's VA Medical Center, says the number of patients needing care has increased dramatically.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Justice Department has asked the FBI to investigate the Department of Veterans Affairs after a scathing report on excessive wait times and inappropriate scheduling practices. WDRB has received complaints from veterans about their families about problems they've experienced locally.

WDRB's Lindsay Allen took those concerns to the person in charge at the Louisville's Robley Rex VA Medical Center.

One of those vets, Keith Salls, was willing to give all to protect his country.

"I was shipped over to Vietnam, Southeast Asia with the 173rd Airborne division," Salls said.

But 13 months in Vietnam turned out be just the beginning of many battles. During the past four years, he has endured a whole new set of challenges.

This past Feb. 13, Salls had a routine endoscope and a colonoscopy. Salls claims the doctor who performed the procedure at the VA Medical Center in Louisville accidentally ruptured his spleen. He had to be rushed to University Hospital for emergency surgery.

"The day he had the scope they were herding people in and out of there like cattle," said Salls' wife, Linda. "His should have been an hour for each procedure, two hours, and he wasn't back there about 40 minutes."

Salls and others contacted WDRB as the details of a national scandal emerged, leading to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. He came under fire following accusations that VA staffers altered and destroyed documents at a hospital in Arizona to make it look like veterans received medical care much sooner than they actually did; in some cases, veterans reportedly died while waiting.

In Louisville, Army Specialist John Huffman wrote us about his struggles at Louisville's VA Hospital.

"I gave up four years of my life and proper use of my right arm in this nation's defense," Huffman wrote. Over the past 13 years I have had some of the most frustrating (times) trying to receive the quality of healthcare that anyone deserves.

We asked the interim director of Louisville's VA Center, Dr. Marylee Rothschild, if she understood the frustration Huffman and others have been expressing.

"Oh absolutely, and I think it's disheartening because I believe that we provide good care," Rothschild said.

Rothschild defends the quality of care offered to patients in Louisville but says the demand for services and treatments in Louisville have skyrocketed.

"We have about 150 new consults a week that we're managing," Rothschild said. "I believe we're doing a good job getting those veterans serviced quickly."

There is so much demand that the VA hospital has extended its hours one night a week and is now open Saturdays.

While some veterans wrote us complaining of long wait times, Rothschild told us veterans here wait far less than elsewhere nationwide. On average a vet sees a doctor about 15 days after scheduling an appointment. Those with acute problems are sent to the emergency room.

As for complaints, Rothschild says she wants to hear them.

"If there are clinical care issues, we need to know about those. We take those very seriously," Rothschild said.

Although we noticed plenty of people in crowded waiting rooms while visiting the hospital to do this story, WDRB's Lindsay Allen was also approached by several patients who wanted to tell us how great they've been treated there.

One of those patients was George Diaz.

"I've never had any complaints or problems, which is why I had to tell you that," Diaz said.

He even got emotional as he was commending the staff.

"They appreciate what we did and they tell you," Diaz said. "And not only that, they understand -- most of them understand."

In the wake of the recent allegations that have come to light, Dr. Rothschild says her biggest worry now is that veterans who need treatment won't come in.

"These kinds of allegations are very serious and they negatively impact a good system of healthcare," Rothschild said.

But Keith Salls is hoping for systemwide improvements.

"I just would like for everybody to know to watch out and be careful and let some light be shed on some of the things that go on at the VA," Salls said.

Some of the problems at the Robley Rex VA in Louisville are blamed on the aging, outdated building. The new VA hospital to be built in East Louisville will offer additional space for expanded services and parking. A satellite clinic for that center located in Dupont Circle, is among 69 facilities named in a scathing audit.

It turns out that the center's track record for seeing patients in a timely manner is better than most across the country -- auditors found the hospital in Louisville scheduled 98 percent of all appointments within 30 days.

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