Durbin, Illinois Delegation: Progress at Marion But Challenges Remain

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – During a meeting with members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), General Eric Shinseki, reported that several procedures have been revised at the Marion VA Medical Center and all problems identified by the Inspector General (IG) will be corrected by the end of the year. However, Secretary Shinseki cautioned that recruitment and retention of experienced personnel at Marion remains the greatest obstacle to stabilizing quality of care. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) hosted today’s meeting which included Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) and Representatives Jerry Costello (D-IL), John Shimkus (R-IL) and Debbie Halvorson (D-IL).


Durbin authored legislation – approved by both the House and Senate last week – that will establish a $3 million pilot project within the VA to recruit and retain qualified medical care professionals (doctors and nurses) and medical administrators to work at VA hospitals in rural areas.


“Over the last two years, attention has been focused on the failures at the Marion VA. Often overlooked was the exceptional work performed everyday by the medical center’s staff,” said Durbin. “These employees – many from military families or former service members themselves – are clearly committed to providing the best possible care to the region’s veterans. Within a month, the VA has made significant progress in correcting the problems in Marion, but more must be done. As the changes continue in Marion, the dedicated doctors, nurses and staff have my full support and the support of Secretary Shinseki and the Illinois Delegation.”


“The turnaround at the Marion VA facility has been a remarkable team effort, and at the heart of that effort has been the talented and committed professionals that work each and every day to provide our veterans with the highest quality care,” said Burris. “As a member of the Veteran Affairs Committee, I am proud to not only have this facility in Illinois, but to have these individuals working in coordination with the administration and Secretary Shinseki to keep the needs of Illinois’ veterans as our top priority. While there are challenges ahead, I am confident we have the right team and are moving in the right direction.”


“We appreciate Secretary Shinseki’s attention to the problems at Marion and I think we are on the right path to making permanent changes,” said Costello. “Beyond improved procedures, which are important, we have impressed upon the Secretary and Director Roseborough the need to hear from all the staff at Marion to understand their concerns and get their insights into how the facility can operate better. This process has begun and will need attention over time as the rest of the senior staff is hired.”


“I thank Secretary Shinseki for his commitment to improve the situation at Marion and to give all those exceptional employees there the leadership and the tools they need to succeed,” Shimkus said. “We also will continue to monitor the progress, so that our veterans receive the care they deserve. As President Reagan used to say, ‘Trust, but verify.”


“Our veterans have given so much to us, and they have earned and deserve access to quality medical care,” said Halvorson. “As the only member of Congress from Illinois on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure we’re providing quality care and proper oversight at the VA facility in Marion, and in facilities throughout Illinois.”


Ongoing Reviews and Reports


Since the IG Report was released in November, four VA organizations and one external body have completed site reviews at Marion. Based on these reviews, the VA concluded that the primary reasons for recurring problems at the Marion VA facility were recruiting and retaining difficulties along with organizational structures and a culture that did not encourage communication. Official reports for all five reviews are being finalized at which point an improvement plan will be implemented. Secretary Shinseki informed the Illinois Congressional Delegation that once the plan is in place, the Marion VA facility will be required to provide monthly reports to several VA organizations.


Increasing Retention and Recruitment


Under the supervision of the new Director, James Roseborough, Marion leadership has established a staff training plan which includes employee mentoring and requires detailed documentation of quality management actions. Roseborough will remain acting director through the end of 2010. Recruitment for senior leadership positions –Chief of Medicine and Quality Management Coordinator – is ongoing with applications for a permanent director being accepted into next month.


Filling Additional Vacancies


The Marion VA Medical Center needs additional surgeons before the VA contemplates restarting inpatient surgeries, which were suspended in 2007 after poor leadership and communication led to serious problems including surgical malfeasance associated with the death of nine veterans. Marion leadership has begun a systematic review of all vacancies to link them with quality and safety recommendations.


Additionally, the facility’s emergency room requires more staffing. Marion VA Medical Center has increased salaries in order to be competitive in the community and attract additional emergency room doctors and nurses. Secretary Shinseki assured the Illinois Congressional Delegation that patient safety has not been and will not be compromised by the vacancies.