The Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Johnson City responded to a scathing audit that ranked it ninth in the nation for wait times for veterans seeking specialist care.
The Department of Veterans Affairs report was released Monday. It showed that more than 57,000 new patients waited at least three months for initial appointments. In Johnson City, new patients waited an average of 67 days to see a doctor.
Mountain Home Health Care System officials said no patient has died waiting for care in their facilities. They said the biggest wait times are for specialists, like optometrists and audiologists. Since many veterans are aging, it takes longer to get them that guaranteed care.
"The majority of our growth is in Knoxville," said Mountain Home director Charlene Ehret. "We have very severe wait limitations in Knoxville and we have looked at every way to pull patients from the Knoxville area, to closer to their home, in Sevierville or Campbell County so we can free space in the Knoxville clinic."
Officials also blamed the lack of a VA hospital in Knoxville for sending so many patients their way. Veterans in the Knoxville area must travel to Johnson City or Nashville (Murfreesboro) for hospital care. There are many outpatient clinics in area counties, but they can't handle everything that veterans need.
Patients at the Middle Tennessee Healthcare System had to wait 71 days for specialist care, ranking sixth-longest among all facilities.
Congress did take some action on Tuesday that could alleviate some of those long waits.
The House unanimously voted to allow patients facing long waits for care at Veterans Affairs facilities to get VA-paid treatment from local doctors. The bill is similar to a broader measure that the Senate plans to debate soon.
The action comes with the VA reeling from growing evidence that workers fabricated data on veterans' waits for medical appointments in an effort to mask frequent, long delays.
We will have more on this story on 10News at 5 and later on WBIR.com.
WCYB and the AP contributed to this report