The war in Vietnam wasn't the only battle Michael Bartolatz fought. These days, the Air Force veteran fights the daily battle of type-2 diabetes. He tests his blood glucose levels five times a day and benefits from an insulin pump. But the lab at the American Lake VA is starting to test his patience.
"You go there and have to take a number and depending on how many people are there before you anywhere from an hour to a four hour wait before you actually get your blood drawn," he said.
So the VA issued a directive to extend hours, including at the lab at American Lake. It was supposed to stay open until 6:30 on Wednesdays but that's not happening, according to one lab tech who said that in fact the delays are only getting worse.
"We have a VA directive but it's not fully implemented. I think it's shortchanging the veterans," said Mimi Grace Gelvezon, who's worked as a lab technician at American Lake VA for eight years.
As a result of the directive the lab did extend its Wednesday hours last July and added Saturday. The delays, said Gelvezon, continued.
Emails she provided KING5 from her supervisor cite delay after delay after delay for outpatient blood draws.
"It's bad to the point where some people just leave their spot they just give up on waiting," Gelvezon said.
But just a few months after extending its hours, the lab cut back-- from a 6:30pm Wednesday closing time, to 6 o'clock. Gelvezon says if a patient showed up for a blood near closing time, the often were turned away.
The VA concedes if a patient seeks a blood draw too close to closing time or if there is a list of patients waiting for lab draws that would exceed closing time, the patient is asked to come back.
Spokesman Chad Hutson says that's to avoid overtime charges if staff has to stay longer. Hutson admits lab wait times are real, as are staffing challenges they say they do plan to address. The VA would like to hire four additional personnel; two phlebotomists and two health techs to accomodate more patients but Hutson did not say when those hires would be made.
After waiting three-and-a-half hours to get his blood drawn last month, Michael Bartolatz is counting on it: "I'm fortunate to have care, the care's good. But some parts of the system aren't good and this is one of them."