McMorris Rodgers, Schrier Grill VA manager on the health records system that employees say is causing low morale at Spokane Medical Center

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WASHINGTON – A House panel on Tuesday grilled the Department of Veterans Affairs official responsible for a new health records system that delayed care at VA Hospital in Spokane and left employees exhausted and demoralized.

VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy told the House subcommittee overseeing the rollout of the new system that he plans to visit Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane in two weeks. The visit is in part in response to an internal investigation in which the overwhelming majority of Mann-Grandstaff employees reported burnout and a drop in morale due to issues with the software used to manage patient information, known as the name of electronic health records or EHRs.

“No matter what has happened before and no matter how long I’ve been in this position, I’m here now, and that means I own it,” Remy told lawmakers, who was confirmed by the Senate. in July. “Our management of the EHR to date has not lived up to the promise of this program, to both our veterans and our suppliers. “

The system is intended to track patients’ health status, past visits, treatments, prescriptions and other medical history. It also allows veterans to make appointments and order prescription refills. Suppliers and customers alike found the new system difficult to use.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, told Remy her office received 138 complaints from local veterans about the software, developed by Cerner Corp. in a contract that is expected to cost taxpayers at least $ 16 billion. While VA Secretary Denis McDonough told lawmakers in July that he would not implement EHR at other VA facilities until Mann-Grandstaff issues are resolved, Remy confirmed Tuesday that the agency planned to deploy the system at the Columbus, Ohio, medical center in February.

“It feels like you move on to Columbus and you’re done at Mann-Grandstaff,” said McMorris Rodgers. “So on behalf of the Eastern Washington Veterans, I just need to know that you are listening to their concerns and making a commitment to address these underlying technical issues that we continue to do. face. “

Remy responded that Mann-Grandstaff would remain a priority even after the VA rolled out the system to other facilities, but Representative Matt Rosendale of Montana, the lead Republican on the panel, cited a growing number of patient safety concerns. reported by staff and argued Mann-Grandstaff’s problems are too serious to justify moving the department to other cities.

Since the new system implemented in October 2020, employees have reported a total of 829 patient safety issues, Rosendale said, of which 576 were directly related to the Cerner EHR. On April 14, Mann-Grandstaff director Dr Robert Fischer told the committee that there had been 247 such reports in the first six months or so using the new system, suggesting that the problem rate reported increased while the VA and Cerner sought work. out the problems.

The problems aren’t limited to Spokane. Mann-Grandstaff operates outpatient clinics in Wenatchee, Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint and Libby, MT, which have also implemented the new software. Representative Kim Schrier, a Democrat who represents Wenatchee, said Remy’s veterans in her district “have experienced truly unacceptable delays in specialist care and referrals, the inability to schedule appointments online, and then , when trying on the phone, impossible waiting times. “

“All of this doesn’t just delay their care, it compromises their care,” said Schrier, who is a doctor. “If you have dedicated your life to protecting our country, it is truly our responsibility to make sure you get the best service and care. And at least for the past year,… the VA is really failing our veterans.

Schrier will visit the VA clinic in Wenatchee next Tuesday, spokeswoman Libby Carlson said, and McMorris Rodgers told Remy she plans to join him when she visits Spokane in mid-November.

After McMorris Rodgers cited a question in the internal investigation that found 62% of Mann-Grandstaff employees said the new EHR caused them to wonder if they wanted to continue working there, Schrier asked Remy if workers left in large numbers, aggravating delays and burnout. for other providers.

“I was not aware of a mass exodus,” said Rémy. “But at the same time, I am aware of this investigation.”

The survey found that 83% of Mann-Grandstaff employees said their morale had dropped because of the Cerner system, Rosendale said, and 78% said their job satisfaction had deteriorated. But Remy has repeatedly suggested that the problem was a lack of understanding on the part of the workers.

“It’s hard to see in the survey how many people… believe the electronic health record system is hindering their ability to do their jobs,” he said. “We try to make sure that we give them the information they need so that they can understand how the system can actually make their jobs easier. “

Democrats on the committee were more optimistic than Republicans, with Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., Saying the new registration system presents “a great opportunity to improve what is already world-class patient care at VA. but members of both sides expressed serious concerns while stressing that they understood that Remy and McDonough had inherited a huge challenge when they took office.

On the day his administration announced the contract with Cerner – which was signed without a competitive bidding process – then-President Donald Trump said the new EHR would mean “faster, quality care, better and much better ”, calling it“ one of the biggest victories for our veterans in decades.

Representative Mike Bost, R-Ill., Told Remy the panel did not hold him accountable for decisions made before he arrived at work in July, but expected him to resolve issues before deploying the system. in the rest of the country. VA installations.

“The problems at Spokane will become problems at Columbus and all the other facilities,” Bost said. “That won’t change until we fix the fundamental problems with the system.”


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