Following Meeting with the VA Inspector General, Durbin Offers Amendment Designed to Attract Medical Professionals to Rural VA Hospitals

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – After a meeting with the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), George Opfer, and the Assistant Inspector General (IG) for Healthcare Inspections, Dr. John Daigh, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today offered an amendment to the Military Construction Veterans Affairs (VA) Appropriations bill that would help VA recruit and retain high-quality healthcare administrators and providers in rural areas. Representatives from the Offices of Senator Roland Burris (D-IL), Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson (D-IL) and Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) also attended today’s meeting.


“Both Secretary Shinseki and the VA Inspector General discussed the importance of quality professionals at the local level,” said Durbin. “In Marion, we’ve seen first-hand the need for improving patient safety and quality management. With more than one out of three veterans living in rural areas, rural hospitals need the resources to recruit and retain talented, high-performing administrators and doctors.”


Durbin’s amendment would establish a pilot project within the VA that would focus on efforts to recruit qualified medical care professionals – doctors and nurses – and medical administrators to work for VA hospitals in underserved rural areas. The pilot project would provide $1.5 million for the Secretary of the VA to offer incentives to medical care professionals and $1.5 million to attract medical administrators. The legislation requires a thorough report on the structure of the pilot program, number of people that were recruited and potential for retention.


Durbin and the Inspector General also discussed the failures outlined in the IG’s report and the long-standing quality management issues at the Marion VA Medical Center. Marion was found to be at or near the bottom in quality management of the roughly fifty VA hospitals that were reviewed in fiscal year 2009. Mr. Opfer and Dr. Daigh emphasized that this finding did not apply to the hands-on care provided to patients. On November 3, Durbin joined with Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) and Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) in requesting today’s meeting to discuss the unacceptable standards and treatment of veterans found by the IG at the Marion VA Medical Center.


“Last week, Secretary Shinseki made a commitment to addressing the problems at Marion VA Medical Center immediately,” said Durbin. “The findings and recommendations in the Inspector General’s report will be crucial as the Quality Management team arrives in Marion.”


The IG reviewed the period between October 2007 and August 2009 under the Combined Assessment Program, which includes recurring evaluations of health care facilities focusing on patient care and quality management. Many quality management failures that were found during previous reviews were identified in this most recent review including lack of sufficient oversight and fragmented and inconsistent reporting structure, inadequate peer review, failure to meet mortality screening requirements, and failure to integrate the patient safety program into all areas of the medical center. Additionally, the IG identified new problems in records review, patient data analysis, staff life support certifications, compliance with environmental standards, and medication management.


In some cases, the IG found that medical personnel at the Marion facility performed procedures for which they did not have proper privileges and safety guidelines involving patient health were routinely ignored.


Poor leadership and communication led to serious problems at the Marion VA Medical Center in 2007, including surgical malfeasance associated with the deaths of nine veterans. The VA reassigned five individuals, including the Marion facility’s director, chief of staff, and chief of surgery, to non-clinical areas after concerns about the quality of patient care at the facility arose. Various reviewers from the Veterans Health Administration, Office of Health Inspection, and Office of Inspector General, have identified concerns with quality management and deficiencies in medical center leadership. Many of these reviews have focused on oversight of quality management processes and, compliance with policies designed to ensure patient safety.