Soon after the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a request for information (RFI) to prepare for a nationwide campaign aimed at attracting medical professionals, doctors at an Oregon VA hospital charge veterans are being turned away to boost the facility’s performance scores.
According to the VA, the department is facing shortages in physician specialties, nursing, pharmacy and other occupations, coupled with an aging work force. While marketing experts grapple with the VA brand, new concerns that the VA is cherry picking veterns to boost its quality of care star ratings over the concerns of healthcare professionals may become increasingly problematic.
According to five emergency room physicians at the Rosenburg VA, administrators have been turning away veterans with complicated conditions as they admit others with more manageable, low-risk conditions to improve the hospital’s star rating.
In a letter in response to questions from The New York Times, the doctors wrote,
When we voice concern that a process is dangerous and not good for patient care we are met with the response that ‘this is what the director wants.’ We cannot express strongly enough how detrimental this process has been for patient care and how unacceptable it would be anywhere else
Higher star ratings for the Oregon VA hospital translated to bonuses for admininstrators even as it faced an exodus of primary care doctors – the hospital lost 17 of its 23 PCPs in 2015.
The VA responded to concerns at Rosenberg – a one-star VA hospital,
All admission decisions are based on the hospital’s ability to provide the care patients require and are made by clinicians, including the facility chief of staff and her clinical chiefs of service — nonclinical administrators have nothing to do with these decisions.
In 2013, a doctor at the Phoenix VA filed a complaint with the VA Office of Inspector General pushing back on alleged reports that waiting times had been reduced for veterans. He alleged such favorable reports stemmed from manipulation of data, and that vets were dying while waiting for care.
In 2014, the VA began grading hospitals on 110 performance indicators such as wait times, infection rates and nurse turnover at its 1,200 hospitals and clinics. That same year, after whistleblowers at the Phoenix VA alleged 40 veterans died waiting for appointments, and that a secret waiting list was created to manipulate data, the VA found senior managers had directed staff to cover up long waits for appointments.
The VA Office of Inspector General wrote in its report,“Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System,”
As of April 22, 2014, we identified about 1,400 veterans waiting to receive a scheduled primary care appointment who were appropriately included on the PVAHCS EWL. However, as our work progressed, we identified over 3,500 additional veterans, many of whom were on what we determined to be unofficial wait lists, waiting to be scheduled for appointments but not on PVAHCS’s official EWL. These veterans were at risk of never obtaining their requested or necessary appointments
Read more about the 81-year old Air Force veteran central to the concerns raised at the Rosenberg VA from The New York Times
Read more about the RFI released by the VA from Medical Marketing & Media
Check out the VHA Marketing and Advertising Project RFI yourself here at GovTribe