Severe staffing shortages sweep VA hospitals

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
News 12 at 5 and 6 o'clock

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Long lines, slow response, and lower-quality care are just some of the problems hitting VA hospitals around the country as they deal with a national staffing shortage. That includes Augusta's Charlie Norwood center.

A report by the Office of the Inspector General is giving us an exact look at just how bad the shortage is.

According to that report, there are 18 severely understaffed positions at the Charlie Norwood VA Hospital. Compared to Decatur, which has 84 severely understaffed positions, 18 doesn't seem so bad. But, it still could impact quality of care.

In Augusta, the number one understaffed position at the VA hospital is the hematology and oncology department. They only have two employees. But the HR department says they are only authorized to have three employees in that department. That means they're only one employee short.

So why is it considered the most severely understaffed position? Well, because when one doctor calls out sick, only one is left to handle the entire unit.

That's not to say the Charlie Norwood VA Hospital doesn't have areas it can improve on. They currently staff 15 employees in the psychiatry department. HR says they have authorization to staff 30.

Tim Hollobaugh used to be in the Air Force. Now, he is a veteran advocate.

"As a patient, it gets frustrating. Often times, you're not kept with the same primary care. They're constantly turning over doctors," he said.

Hollobaugh says under-staffing is an issue that can contribute to a hostile work environment and high turnover rates.

"Continuity of care is going to be at risk, patient lives are going to be at risk, you're going to have high turnover because they're stacking too many duties on one department or another," he said.

The report says possible reasons for staffing shortages are things like lack of competitive compensation, high turnover rates, and unqualified candidates.

Hollobaugh says the real issue at play stems from a much higher level.

"When the legislature passes all these new changes and laws, they're real great if they would implement them and fund them, instead of trying to dump it on the existing budget and the existing short-staffed people we have," he said.

As an advocate, Hollobaugh has one final plea.

"We need to pay better, we need to recruit quality doctors and we need to have a system that holds accountability for the doctors that are there so they stay quality," he said.

But as a veteran, it's a situation that leaves him feeling hopeless.

"This is supposed to be government healthcare. What do we do?," said Hollobaugh.

To read the full Inspector General report, see below:

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