VA: Wait times should improve with new clinic

SAN DIEGO – In light of the growing scrutiny of Veterans Affairs hospitals, San Diego officials said a new clinic could alleviate some of the stress with wait times.

The VA Medical Center is La Jolla sees an estimated 75,000 patients a year. Over the last 20 years, the number has grown 3-8 percent each year, according to Robert M. Smith, Chief of Staff of the Center.

Rendering of new VA clinic set to open in August 2014

Rendering of the new Veterans Affairs clinic set to open in August 2014.

“The growth rate in the number of veterans that we care for has caused us to begin to exceed the capacity of our current work space,” said Smith.

The over population, as a result, has some patients waiting weeks – even months – to get an appointment.

“It’s a good hospital. It’s just that it is very busy,” said Eleanor Swaderner, whose husband is a veteran. “There are a lot of veterans and there will probably be more in the future.”

She admitted that in the past, she has waited up to a month for an appointment.

In addition, more and more veterans are coming in from surrounding areas to seek care in San Diego.

“We are constantly growing which is making it difficult for us to stay on top of things,” said Smith.

The long wait lines recently caught the attention of government auditors.

“What is disheartening about the stories, as they have been presented, is that it creates the impression that the VA doesn`t care, or that it’s trying to hide the magnitude of the problem. I don`t know anybody in this building that isn’t committed to providing veterans care,” said Smith.

To combat the growing problem, a new 3,000 square-foot clinic is expected to open in Sorrento Valley in August and will have more exam rooms.

“That’s going to give us the capacity to see 7,200 primary care patients as well as decompress the population of patients here now,” said Smith.

Officials estimate it will cost a minimum of $3,000,000 a year to operate the new clinic.