The District of Columbia’s federal Veterans Hospital was recently criticized for its poor sanitary conditions, management practices and staffing shortages.
On April 12, the Veteran Affairs Office of Inspector General issued an interim summary report citing inventory management practices and staffing deficiencies that places patients at risk at the facility located near the Washington Hospital Center in Northwest D.C. The report cited areas of concern such as no effective inventory system for managing the availability of medical equipment and supplies used for patient care; lack of an effective system used to ensure supplies and equipment that was subject to patient safety recalls were not used on patients; 18 of 25 sterile satellite storage areas were dirty; over $150 million in equipment and supplies have not been inventoried and accounted for in the past year; a large warehouse stocked full of non-inventoried equipment, materials and supplies has a lease expiring on April 30, with no plan to move the contents of the warehouse; and there are critical staff positions that need to be filled.
Michael J. Missal, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Inspector General, said in an April 12 statement that the report’s conclusions were critical to taking steps to remedy the problems.
“OIG became aware of the potentially serious patient care issues at the Washington, D.C. Medical Center and promptly deployed our Rapid Response Team to investigate,” Missal said. “Part of OIG’s mission is to monitor the quality of patient care and outcomes for veteran patients who rely on the VA for their health care. When we became aware of the deficiencies at VA that place patients at unnecessary risk, we will act immediately and aggressively to address those deficiencies.”
Since the report was released, critical action has taken place. On that same day, retired Col. Lawrence Connell was named the acting medical center director for the D.C. VA Medical Center.
The District of Columbia has 28, 0155 veterans according to statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those statistics indicate that 56.6 percent of all District veterans are Black and 40.2 percent are White.
Women account for 12.8 percent of the city’s veterans and 18.6 percent had a service-connected disability, according to the census.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) represents the city in the U.S. Congress. Congress is in recess until April 21 and Norton did not return requests for comment by press time.
However, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Democrats representing Virginia, along with their colleague Jon Testor, Democrat of Montana, have written a letter to U.S. Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who was confirmed on Feb. 13, on the matter. Kaine is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Warner and Testor sit on the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee.
“Veterans throughout our home states consistently call for improving the VA health care system because the VA is where they prefer to receive their care,” the senators wrote on April 14. “Veteran safety should never be compromised under any circumstance-particularly if due to inadequacy in basic hospital functions, such as keeping an appropriate inventory of safe and sterile supplies. If these issues do occur, we expect immediate action so that no further patients are put at risk.