With D.C. fa­cil­ity’s woes, VA’s trou­bles hit home

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS Deb­o­rah Sim­mons can be con­tacted at dsim­mons@wash­ing­ton­times.com

So — let’s get this right. The Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs sys­tem of hos­pi­tals and clin­ics, Amer­ica’s lead­ing health care sys­tem for mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, is front-page news again.

Not be­cause of ma­jor prob­lems in, say, Phoenix, with its “se­cret” wait­ing lists for vet­er­ans seek­ing ser­vices, and not be­cause the Le­gionella bac­te­ria is plagu­ing a VA hospi­tal in Pitts­burgh — again.

In both those cases, re­gional mis­man­age­ment could eas­ily be con­sid­ered the source of those prob­lems. Now, how­ever, the source of the prob­lem is the VA it­self. In­deed, the fact that the VA’s flag­ship lo­cal hospi­tal in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal is risk­ing the health of some of our na­tion’s most hon­or­able he­roes speaks vol­umes. Mis­man­age­ment is part of the prob­lem. Yet the gen­eral con­di­tions at the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., VA Med­i­cal Cen­ter are filthy and in dis­ar­ray as well, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

Here’s some of a sum­mary re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day by the Depart­ment of Vet­eran Af­fairs’ Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral, which said the cur­rent state of care placed pa­tients at “un­nec­es­sary risk.”

In March, for ex­am­ple, the D.C. med­i­cal cen­ter ran out of blood­lines for dial­y­sis treat­ment, and could only per­form the pro­ce­dures af­ter bor­row­ing sup­plies from a pri­vate hospi­tal. Chem­i­cal strips used to ver­ify equip­ment ster­il­iza­tion had ex­pired a month ear­lier, mean­ing ster­il­iza­tion tests per­formed on nearly all items were un­re­li­able.

In June 2016 a sur­geon used ex­pired equip­ment dur­ing a pro­ce­dure, the IG re­port found. In April of that year, four prostate biop­sies were can­celed be­cause there were no tools to ex­tract the tis­sue sam­ples, and in Fe­bru­ary 2016 a tray used in the re­pair of jaw frac­tures was re­moved from the VA hospi­tal be­cause of an out­stand­ing in­voice to a ven­dor.

These are un­con­scionable sit­u­a­tions in and of them­selves. That they were un­cov­ered within a 10-minute ride from VA head­quar­ters and a few blocks from the White House is un­con­scionable.

As with the “se­cret” wait­ing list at the Phoenix VA hospi­tal, a tip is cred­ited with draw­ing blood on the embattled VA health care sys­tem.

It’s not just the D.C. fa­cil­ity. The Pitts­burgh VA cen­ter has some se­ri­ous prob­lems of its own.

An out­break of Le­gion­naire’s dis­ease left five peo­ple dead and at least 22 pa­tients in­fected in 2011 and 2012. Im­proper pro­to­cols were a part of the prob­lem. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat, even cited a “clear lack of un­der­stand­ing at VA fa­cil­i­ties across the coun­try about proper pro­to­col when test­ing for Le­gionella.”

Well, Mr. Casey, what say you now?

This win­ter, the Le­gionella bac­te­ria was found in VA sinks in an out­pa­tient clinic, some wa­ter sup­ply lines and in an ad­min­is­tra­tive unit that was not be­ing used.

Le­gionella can eas­ily be spread by peo­ple who in­hale droplets of air­borne bac­te­ria. Peo­ple with com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tems, in­clud­ing VA pa­tients re­ceiv­ing dial­y­sis, are es­pe­cially at risk.

Sure, it’s a good thing that the bac­te­ria was dis­cov­ered. It’s not a good thing, how­ever, that the Pitts­burgh fa­cil­ity is still trou­bled by it.

VA Sec­re­tary Dr. David J. Shulkin has a mas­sive chal­lenge on his hands, over­see­ing the gamut of the health care de­liv­ery for 9 mil­lion vet­er­ans at 1,700 hos­pi­tals and clin­ics.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion must get this right.

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