VA vows changes on bad health care providers

Law­mak­ers take ac­tion af­ter USA TO­DAY finds re­peated fail­ures

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page -

USA TO­DAY WASH­ING­TON The Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs is pledg­ing to over­haul its re­port­ing poli­cies for bad med­i­cal work­ers and a group of law­mak­ers is in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion af­ter a USA TO­DAY in­ves­ti­ga­tion that found the VA has rou­tinely con­cealed shoddy care and staff mis­takes.

VA Sec­re­tary David Shulkin di­rected agency of­fi­cials to ex­pand a nearly 30-year-old pol­icy that lim­ited what med­i­cal providers the agency would re­port to a na­tional data­base cre­ated by Con­gress to pre­vent prob­lem med­i­cal work­ers from cross­ing state lines to es­cape their pasts and keep prac­tic­ing.

The agency will re­port all clin­i­cians from now on, VA press sec­re­tary Curt Cashour said. Shulkin also asked staff to re­write 12-year-old guide­lines for re­port­ing them to state li­cens­ing boards in an ef­fort to speed up the process.

“Un­der Sec­re­tary Shulkin, VA’s new di­rec­tion is to hold em­ploy­ees ac­count­able and to be trans­par­ent with our find­ings and ac­tions,” Cashour said.

The leg­is­la­tion from Rep. Cathy McMor­ris Rogers, RWash., Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, RMaine, would re­quire VA doc­tors them­selves to re­port di­rectly to state li­cens­ing boards within five days of wit­ness­ing un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior from fel­low doc­tors.

“Th­ese new­est re­ports out of the VA are deeply trou­bling,” McMor­ris Rodgers said. “This bill will help re­form the cul­ture at the VA by hold­ing bad ac­tors ac­count­able and keep­ing them from con­tin­u­ing th­ese mis­takes at the VA or else­where.”

The USA TO­DAY in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the VA has fre­quently failed to en­sure its hospi­tals re­ported prob­lem health care providers to state li­cens­ing boards. Such re­ports can be de­layed by years. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion also found the VA pol­icy on re­port­ing to the na­tional data­base left out thou­sands of providers. The agency pre­vi­ously re­ported only physi­cians and den­tists — no nurses, physi­cians’ as­sis­tants or po­di­a­trists.

The VA de­ter­mined one po­di­a­trist at its Maine hospi­tal harmed 88 vet­er­ans, in­clud­ing a wo­man who af­ter two failed an­kle surg­eries chose to have her leg am­pu­tated rather than en­dure the pain. Still, the agency didn’t re­port the foot doc­tor to the data­base un­der its pre­vi­ous pol­icy, and it took two years to re­port him to state li­cens­ing boards.

In other cases, USA TO­DAY found VA hospi­tals signed se­cret set­tle­ment deals with dozens of doc­tors, nurses and other health work­ers that in­cluded prom­ises to con­ceal se­ri­ous mis­takes — from in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­la­tion­ships and break­downs in su­per­vi­sion to dan­ger­ous med­i­cal er­rors — even af­ter forc­ing them out of the VA.

Roe, chair­man of the House Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said the com­mit­tee has “long been con­cerned about VA’s set­tle­ment agree­ments.”

“The find­ings of the USA TO­DAY in­ves­ti­ga­tion are in­tol­er­a­ble,” he said. “Malfea­sance within the depart­ment will not be ig­nored, and it cer­tainly can­not be re­warded and hid­den from state li­cens­ing boards. As a physi­cian, I find this deeply trou­bling.”

In re­sponse to USA TO­DAY’s find­ings, Shulkin di­rected that any fu­ture set­tle­ment agree­ments worth more than $5,000 be ap­proved by top VA of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton. Pre­vi­ously, lo­cal and re­gional of­fi­cials made de­ci­sions on the deals, which can cut short po­ten­tially costly em­ployee chal­lenges of VA dis­ci­plinary ac­tions.

On Wed­nes­day, the agency also said it planned to post pub­licly for the first time data on set­tle­ments that are ap­proved. The first tranche of data shows that since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary, the VA has struck agree­ments with at least 160 em­ploy­ees in­volv­ing pay­outs to­tal­ing $4.2 mil­lion.

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