The D.C. Veterans Affairs hospital is under fire after a new inspector general report revealed that the facility was knowingly misusing taxpayer funds and putting patients at risk. In Inspector General Michael J. Missal’s own words, the hospital “suffered a series of systemic and programmatic failures to consistently deliver timely and quality patient care.”
These findings are disgraceful — but not at all surprising. The report is merely the latest in a long list of embarrassing discoveries at VA hospitals across the country. Reforms to the health-care program are long overdue.
The D.C. hospital risked patient health on several occasions. According to the findings, some patients underwent anesthesia before their doctors realized they lacked the necessary equipment to perform scheduled surgeries. In such cases, hospital staff were sometimes able to quickly fetch equipment from nearby private facilities mid-surgery. If that wasn’t an option, doctors were forced to cancel and reschedule procedures.
And even if staff members had the necessary equipment to do their jobs, the report noted that the facility steadily lacked clean storage areas for medical supplies.
Between 2014 and 2016, there were at least 375 patient safety incidents because of supply problems. Conveniently, staff failed to enter half of these problems into the VA’s national tracking database.
Shockingly, Missal did not find any instances of patient harm as a result of hospital shortcomings. He did note, however, that this was “largely due to the efforts of many dedicated health care providers that overcame service deficiencies to ensure patients received needed care.”
What’s more, the VA hospital staff showed a complete disregard for patient privacy. In the one D.C. facility, the investigators located no fewer than 1,300 boxes of unsecured patient documents. The documents — carelessly left in storage, dumpsters and a basement — contained veterans’ private medical records, among other confidential information.
As icing on the cake, the VA facility was misusing taxpayer dollars to fund this so-called care. From October 2014 to April 2017, the D.C. hospital spent roughly $92 million on medical supplies without “proper controls to ensure the purchases were necessary and cost-effective.”
In one example, Missal noted that the facility paid more than double what it had to for each medical speculum purchased. In another case, the hospital forked over a whopping $900 for a special needle it could have purchased for $250.
The report also listed more than 500,000 items — worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — sitting unused in an off-site warehouse.
Worse still, VA officials knew about these problems and did nothing. As the report notes, “leaders frequently abrogated individual responsibility and deflected blame to others” and “despite the many warnings” leaders “failed to engage in meaningful interventions or effective remediation.”
The D.C. VA hospital is not alone in its scandal. Gross negligence is a trend among VA facilities across the nation.
A VA facility in Lafayette, La., hired a psychologist in 2004 despite his long list of felony convictions. More recent, an Iowa veteran lost his life after a series of botched brain surgeries at a VA hospital at the hands of a doctor with a slew of malpractice complaints. In 2014, investigators found that dozens of veterans died waiting for care at a Phoenix VA hospital. And a report last year based on VA facilities in North Carolina and Virginia found widespread inaccuracies and coverups to conceal patient wait times.
The list goes on.
Each day, veterans suffer at the hands of dubious doctors, inept VA officials and staff unwilling to report mistakes. At the same time, taxpayers unknowingly fund these blunders. This has to stop. It’s time for lawmakers to fix our broken VA system.