Central Alabama VA’s radiology department struggles to regain footing

The radiology department of the Central Alabama VA remains perilously understaffed, but system leaders have stepped up efforts to see that all diagnostic images get read, and without undue delay.

Updating an earlier report detailing hundreds of unread images due to a critical radiologist shortage—and exposing a leaked email thread showing the department chief pleading with referrers to only order exams when “absolutely necessary”—the Montgomery Advertiser this week reported that several temporary remedies have been applied.

The health system’s acting chief of staff told the newspaper that, ideally, radiology would have six radiologists on staff, including the department head. Currently there are only three, one of whom is under review and so may not read images, according to the paper. He also said the health system was expediting the hiring process to add two new radiologists by the end of the year while also working to convince a current staffer to delay his retirement until then.

In the meantime, the department is working with other VA radiology operations in the area and reaching out to local radiologists with offers to read images on a fee basis, the Advertiser reported.

A VA official told the paper that the biggest challenge has been finding radiologists to apply for the open positions.

Then too, the Central Alabama’s staffing problems are systemic and reach well beyond any one department. The Advertiser obtained figures through a Freedom of Information Act request showing nearly 200 unfilled patient-care positions, including 27 for doctors and 82 for nurses.

In a separate article, the paper reported that the system’s former director, James Talton, has appealed his October firing. It was the Advertiser’s reporting that led to the VA dismissing Talton for neglect of duty—and led to an ongoing investigation in Central Alabama by the U.S. House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.