VA medical center in nation’s capital downgraded to 1-star

Matt Saintsing
February 22, 2019 - 5:37 pm

ID 76967936 © Sherry Young |

The Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center was downgraded to a 1-Star rating, the lowest ranking out of five possible stars, according to a report by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The report, dated Jan. 28., includes piercing criticism despite making some improvements. The medical center was downgraded from the 2-Star rating it received in 2017. Those with one star represent the bottom 10 percent of facilities within the VA system. 

“The Star rating designation is designed to help VA identify best practices of its top performing hospitals and share them with facilities with challenges in similar areas,” Gloria Hairston, spokesperson for the DC VA, tells ConnectingVets. 

“Although the Washington DC VA Medical Center is rated one-star, we have seen overall improvement in quality measures and will continue to implement sustainable processes and value-based health care for veterans."

U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Tech. Sgt. William Hopper

The report, based on information gathered during an unannounced visit last spring, highlights a series of issues. 

For one, a high turnover rate that “may have contributed to the failures of the facility to resolve a variety of issues.” Ten human resources chiefs came and left between January 2012 and July 2017. 
In May 2018, the director of the medical center defined the HR department as the most “problematic” service. 

The frequent turnover of executives contributed to the “lack of evidence of ongoing, coordinated efforts to improve identified deficiencies, employee relations, and patient care,” according to the report. 

The report also notes “deficiencies in infection prevention, environmental cleanliness, sterile supplies, medical equipment safety, and mental health seclusion room safety.” 

Additionally, inspectors found “1,550 inches of patient reports dating back to 2014 had not been scanned into the electronic health records,” a major VA initiative. As of May 2018, contractors were unable to access the electronic health records system to scan the documents. 

“This caused patient results within these records to not be available to healthcare providers,” the inspectors noted. 

But according to a VA spokesperson, “these documents have no impact on patient care.”

“All of these records have been triaged by registered nurses to ensure required follow up care as needed,” says the spokesperson. 

“Currently there are 905 inches of documents left to be scanned, 800 inches of which consist of redundant information, such as discharge instructions.”

The Washington, D.C.  VA Medical Center is under new leadership, Michael Heimall, took over the position in October. 

 “While the IG found a number of opportunities for improvement, we welcome the scrutiny and consider this an opportunity to redouble our efforts to serve Veterans,” says Heimall.

“The medical center is under new leadership and on a new path, and we look forward to working with the necessary stakeholders and local and national VA leaders in order to complete all of the IG’s recommendations.”

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Despite the spike in deficiencies, the inspectors also took notice of some improvements. For one, the report finds “substantial improvements in some previously deficient areas and minimal improvement in others.”  

For example, 91 percent of clinicians and managers interviewed by inspectors said “the availability of supplies has improved” including testing supplies, bloodlines for dialysis, tubes for oxygen, and surgical supplies. 

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Still, it notes that despite finding “some significant improvements…there is still a long path forward to rebuild the confidence of the staff and trust of their veteran patients.” 

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