Before visiting Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane on Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray said she has been committed to fixing a faulty computer system that has threatened patient safety since the Department of Veterans Affairs began piloting it in the Inland Northwest in October 2020.
The Washington Democrat, who holds key positions on Senate committees that provide both oversight and funding to the effort that is planned to spend at least $ 21 billion a decade, failed to call on VA Secretary Denis McDonough to stop the launch of the system in Walla Walla and other Northwest towns until the problems are resolved. A draft report by the VA Office of Inspector General found that senior VA officials approved the continued launch of the system despite being warned months ago of a problem that had damaged 148 veterans have not yet been fully resolved.
“The doctors and nurses and everyone who works here at Mann-Grandstaff really care about their work and they care about their mission, but now they are troubled by a faulty electronic health record system that doesn’t work for them. , “Murray told reporters. before meeting with veterans and hospital employees.
Murray’s visit to Spokane came after Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican representing Central Washington, met with veterans and employees at Walla Walla’s VA medical center and a VA clinic in Richland on Tuesday and Wednesday. In a statement Thursday, Newhouse said he heard a clear message from veterans and staff: The system “does not provide the care our veterans need and deserve.”
According to the draft watchdog report, obtained by The Spokesman-Review, a system problem caused referral orders submitted by doctors and nurses not to be sent to their intended recipients, resulting in delayed care. and 148 injury cases identified by one patient in the VA safety group.
“I am committed to making sure our veterans, the men and women who have put their lives on the line for us, receive this care where and when they need it,” Newhouse said in the statement. “I call on the Biden administration to immediately deploy resources to hospitals in Spokane and Walla Walla VA to ensure no more records are lost and no more veterans are injured.”
After The Spokesman-Review informed the VA that it had obtained the draft Inspector General report, the department announced that it would delay the planned launch of the Puget Sound regional system from August to March. Days later, the deployment of the Boise VA Medical Center system was rescheduled for a month through July 23rd.
In Spokane on Thursday, Murray thanked McDonough’s decision to require the launch of Seattle and other sites west of the Cascades, saying that bringing the system to more, more complex facilities before the fixing problems can be “catastrophic.”
When a reporter asked Murray what he should consider putting a permanent suspension on the project, something he is in a unique position to do as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the senator said he still determined to see the effort.
“The system we had before is out of date and won’t work,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. But that fact is, until we get it right – and it’s not right yet – we need to fix it and we really need to get the VA and the administration focused on doing it and then expanding it. to other people. “
The new system, developed by Cerner Corp. in a $ 10 billion contract signed in 2018 that did not go through a competitive bidding process, intended to replace the current electronic health record still in use at nearly all of the more than 1,200 VA facilities nationwide, which remains. popular with users. Murray said he recently spoke with executives at tech giant Oracle, which got Cerner to a $ 28.3 billion deal that closed in June.
While admitting that he is not an expert on electronic health records, Murray said leaders at Oracle and VA assured him that they are working immediately to address system problems. However, he said, “I’ll believe them when I see it.”
On Wednesday, Oracle Executive Vice President Kenneth Glueck sent a letter to key members of a House subcommittee accused of overseeing the launch of the system, Rep. Frank Mrvan, D-Ind., And Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont. In it, Glueck told lawmakers that Oracle is conducting a “thorough analysis” of the system, including the issue of why referral commands are effectively missing.
Opposing a central claim in the draft Inspector General report, the Oracle executive stated that officials from the VA and the Department of Defense – which implement the same system at Cerner – decided in January 2020 to use the part that causes missing orders. If true, at least some of the blame for the injury could be shifted to VA officials who failed to notify doctors and nurses of the potential danger.
Following its planned launch at Boise VA Medical Center and its affiliated clinics in Oregon and Idaho on July 23, the Cerner system is not scheduled to be deployed at other sites until early 2023.
In June, President Joe Biden signed a bill that would become law requiring the VA to send quarterly reports to Congress on the status and cost of the 10 -year project, which is already behind schedule and whose overall -the cost remains unclear.
Spokesman-Review reporter Kip Hill contributed to this report.
Orion Donovan-Smith’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review was funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story may be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact the managing editor of our newspaper.