Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System staff in Biloxi will spend Saturday reaching out to veterans with acute medical needs -- patients already on waiting lists but who need more immediate care.
The Access Stand Down will be a national event Saturday, with VA medical centers across the country participating. It also is part of a broader effort among the VA to increase outreach to veterans and continue to improve wait times.
"One of the most important things we do, if not the most important, is provide veterans with timely health care," said Jerron Barnett, a spokesman for the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System. "This is work we're doing every day but this particular effort, the soul focus is on those with acute and important needs, to get them care."
The VA medical center in Biloxi, like others across the country, has been working for more than a year to bring down wait times for patients since the scandal broke in April 2014.
And Biloxi has made progress.
Between August and November, wait times have fallen from an average of 15 days for primary care appointments to 6.06 days. The average wait time for specialty care dropped from 13.89 days to 6.76 days and for mental health care from 7.46 days to 4.46 days.
Still, those numbers are slightly higher than the national average of four days for primary care, five days for specialty care and three days for mental health care.
"Our numbers show that we are seeing 96 percent of new patients and 93 percent of established patients within 30 days, which is an improvement, but it still leaves four percent and seven percent of our Veterans out there waiting for care," said Anthony Dawson, the director of the Health Care System. "Our goal is to give quality and timely care to each and every veteran that comes to us."
The medical needs staff are targeting include cardiology care, radiation therapy, oncology, behavioral health and urology, among others, Barnett said. Staff have spent the past week going through records and identifying the greatest needs.
On Saturday, they will attempt to get those patients in for care quickly, either at the VA facility or with community partners.
"We are starting with veterans that we have listed as having the most urgent needs," Dawson said. "Our access improvement strategies are very focused and dealing with urgent needs as our highest priority."