“It is imperative that the committee follows up with the VA in a public forum to address the problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center and any progress the VA has made in improving the mental health care provided in all of their facilities,” Isakson said in a news release this week. He said the committee, on which he sits, “can learn from these incidents to make sure they are not happening elsewhere in the VA system.”
Isakson suggested that the committee invite VA officials from national, regional and local offices along with private sector and community mental health care providers. He also wants senators and their staffs to tour the Atlanta center and the mental health unit which was the subject of a scathing report by the VA inspector general in April. Since then a new director and new mental health chief have been appointed with promises of changes to fix the problems.
But less than a month ago, a Marine veteran who was admitted with an abscess in his colon waited four days without treatment, finally left and had surgery at a private hospital although he had no insurance.
Last week Isakson and his Georgia colleague, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a member of the Armed Services Committee, sent two letters to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki “demanding answers” to the inspector general’s report about “egregious mismanagement” at the Atlanta facility and its contract with the DeKalb County Community Service Board.
The senators wrote that the inspector general’s report “substantiated allegations that the hospital did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure patient safety, to supervise clinical changes in patients, or to monitor patients in the mental health unit.”
In response, the facility “implemented its action plan and established policies and procedures in line with the IG’s recommendations.”
But Isakson and Chambliss are rightly asking for specifics: “What metrics, benchmarks, statistics and results does the Atlanta VAMC now use to track the performance of the inpatient mental health unit since the implementation of the action plan?
“We fear that this lack of oversight might exist in other VAMC across the country,” the senators wrote. “We believe the mismanagement of the mental health programs at the Atlanta VAMC provides an opportunity to explore the lessons learned and to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated anywhere else in the country.”
But it’s not only patient care that needs scrutiny. The regional VA office in Cleveland, Ohio “has deleted almost half a million electronic records which contain active loans, grants and applications,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said this week after sending a letter to the VA secretary urging “swift action to protect our veterans and ensure that this incident never happens again.”
All this could be the tip of an iceberg?