DANVILLE — A new report mandated by Congress shows that the local Veterans Affairs hospital — and others like it across the country — are more than a little shorthanded, particularly when it comes to medical and dental positions.
As Danville's largest employer with more than 1,400 employees, the VA Illiana Health Care System had 167 openings for "full-time authorized and budgeted" positions as of June 30, according to the national report released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Of those, 105 were in the medical and dental fields.
Another 30 vacancies were in general administration and social science, with the rest scattered across more than a dozen other job categories, including food preparation, plumbing and education.
The report — which must be completed quarterly going forward, per Congress' recently passed MISSION Act — shows that vacancies throughout the entire U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs total 45,239 overall. Of those, 40,000-plus are within the Veterans Health Administration, which has the majority (375,953) of all VA employees.
More than 37,000 of those vacancies are at the 140 medical centers across the country, including more than 23,000 in the medical/dental category.
VA officials at the national level argued that the vacancies are a result of a shortage of health care professionals, especially physicians and nurses. It's no different, they said, than the challenges faced by the private health care industry.
They added that vacancies alone aren't indicators of inadequate staffing levels at VA facilities. The best measure of success, they said, is veteran access to health care services and the results of care received.
The VA fares much better in those areas, officials said, pointing out that the average time it takes to complete an urgent referral to a specialist has been cut from 19.3 days in 2014 to fewer than 10 days last year.
Todd Oliver, public affairs officer for VA Illiana Health Care System, said access times in Danville are lower than the national average:
— The average wait for primary care here is 3.22 days, compared with 4.54 nationally.
— For specialty care, the local number is 6.92 days, compared with 8.03 nationally.
— For mental health services, the wait is 1.35 days in Danville and 3.72 nationally, Oliver added.
National VA officials also maintained that turnover rates among the 140 medical facilities across the U.S. "compare favorably" with those throughout the health care industry, adding that the VHA's 9 percent rate is less than the 20 percent to 30 percent in private care.
Oliver said he couldn't provide specific numbers, but said the Danville facility has turnover rate about the same as the VHA national rate.