VA hospital lost or 'wasted' $1.8M in equipment and supplies it kept in storage room, report says

Abbie Bennett
October 09, 2019 - 12:31 pm
HamptonVAHospital

VA

A Virginia VA hospital lost track of medical equipment and supplies valued at $1.8 million. 

They were in an unmarked second-floor storage room and a warehouse basement for an "undetermined" amount of time and staff were "unable to locate" some of the items, a recent watchdog report says.

Last year, a tip came into the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) alleging that more than $500,000 in medical equipment was left "unused" in an "unmarked operating room storage area" or in a warehouse "for several years" at the Hampton, Va. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.  

The Inspector General launched an investigation and found many of the tipster's allegations were correct, though the value of the items was much higher than originally reported.

Investigators found 139 items valued at more than $300 each in the storage room that had inaccurate information in the hospital's inventory system, along with 189 items in the warehouse basement that were later removed "without a clear documentation trail." 

For two years, the hospital did not have "an effective inventory system in place" to track operating room supplies because the staff was not always using the inventory program and management wasn't monitoring its use, the OIG report said. 

Hospital staff also over-ordered supplies, "leading to overstocked and expired supplies," OIG said, including thousands of dollars in "wasted stock" and expired supplies such as sutures and surgical staplers. The expired supplies were also mixed in with unexpired supplies, making it difficult to tell the difference. 

The problems are not unique to the Virginia hospital, the report said, citing inventory management issues at other VA facilities which could point to a"potentially systemic" issue, including "a lack of an accurate inventory and no reliable method for locating equipment and supplies." 

This isn't the first time the same hospital has had inventory issues. In 2017 and 2018, investigators found other issues with supply storage and inventory and hospital leadership signed off saying improvements were made, but the problems "persisted" as of investigators' following visits. 

Understaffing and lack of leadership contributed to the problems, the report said, with vacancies in "key" hospital staff positions, which hospital leadership said was caused by "systemwide budget constraints" and other issues. 

OIG made several recommendations for hospital leadership, including:

Assign a staffer to inventory the storage room;

Ensure management follows rules for lost or stolen equipment;

Create a process to make sure the staff follows requirements for equipment that is no longer needed;

Properly inventory the found equipment; 

Fill vacant jobs and account for the high turnover.

VA's Mid-Atlantic Healthcare Network director agreed with the OIG's findings and recommendations and the hospital's interim director agreed with the recommendations and "submitted acceptable corrective action plans." OIG said it would continue to monitor the hospital's progress. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.