More trouble for the Veterans Health Administration, and it is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. It is all because 41,500 open jobs remain unfilled.
Here in the Lowcountry, four thousand Veterans qualify for Choice, which means they can see community doctors based on distance to a VA medical center, or the inability to secure an appointment within 30 days.
“Right now, 99% of our appointments are within 30 days,” said Dr. Florence Hutchison, Chief of Staff at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Downtown Charleston.
Hutchison says, of that four thousand eligible, fewer than 400 have opted to see a doctor outside the system. While recruitment is a challenge in some parts of the country, Charleston is a draw and makes a long governmental process a little bit easier to navigate.
“We have a lot of advantages in that Charleston is a great place to live, and our affiliation with the Medical University exposes them to caring for our Veterans and often times they see that as a calling,” said Dr. Hutchison.
However, the Charleston medical center is not immune from staffing challenges. Right now there are 335 jobs open, and that is 12% of the total staff. All while adding 200 new positions in recent months. Nearly half of the open jobs are nursing positions. Hutchison says a significant disparity between what they can offer versus other area hospitals makes it hard to be competitive in the nursing market.
“We have gone to Washington and requested to be able to increase nursing pay and we have been able to do that for certain classes of nurses,” Dr. Hutchison said.