A key House lawmaker is continuing to press the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for transparency amid reports of possible service changes and ongoing performance issues with the agency’s new electronic health records (EHR) system.
The most recent exchange between lawmakers and the agency – the latest in a long line of pointed oversight from Congress over VA’s EHR rollout – came in a May 10th letter from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., sent to Dr. Robert Fischer, facility director at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, expressing concern over rumored service reduction and complications with the EHR rollout.
The VA launched the first installation of the new EHR system at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., in October 2020, then deployed the program at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, Wash., in March 2022.
The long-planned restructuring of VA’s EHR system aims to modernize the current outdated record system, and ease sharing of medical records, particular with the Department of Defense (DoD). The EHR revamp is projected to be completed by 2028.
However, the deployment has been anything but smooth. Since its launch, the new system has been partly or completely down more than 50 times, leading to hundreds of impacts on patient care, with veterans experiencing delays in care for critically needed treatment. In addition, veteran records have been deleted from the system, leading to lost prescriptions for crucial medications, appointment cancellations and delays, and other lapses in veteran safety and care.
“I continue to have serious concerns with delays in care and lost medical records due to complications with the EHR rollout,” Rep. McMorris Rodgers wrote.
At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on funding requests for the VA earlier this month, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., spoke with VA Secretary Denis McDonough and called for a halt to the rollout of the EHR system in Washington state until the program’s ongoing issues are fixed.
“It is abundantly clear from what my constituents tell me, from the IG’s reports, and public reporting – the system is plagued with ongoing issues. So, I want to work together with you, and I want a commitment that we won’t go to any other Washington state sites with this until we have these issues fixed,” Sen. Murray said at the hearing.
Sen. Murray has been conducting oversight on the EHR rollout at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center for years. She questioned then-VA Secretary Robert Wilkie about the EHR rollout in September of 2018 and wrote a letter in January 2020 to VA leadership expressing her concern on reports of staffing and facility issues at Mann-Grandstaff, specifically regarding how those issues could affect the EHR rollout.
Following Sen. Murray’s concerns, the VA initially delayed the rollout of the EHR program at Mann-Grandstaff until March 2020.
In addition to EHR concerns, lawmakers have also pressed the VA on their lack of transparency regarding rumors of possible service changes. According to Rep. McMorris Rodgers, rumors have swirled across the community in recent weeks about inpatient services offered at Mann-Grandstaff, with many veterans and providers being led to believe that services were to be imminently reduced or eliminated.
The VA has assured lawmakers that there are no immediate plans to close or reduce inpatient services at Mann-Grandstaff. However, Rep. McMorris Rodgers stressed that “this lack of transparency from leadership at the [VA] has created frustration and confusion within the community.”
Additionally, she stressed that continued complications due to the EHR rollout highlight the need for the medical center “to maintain staff, rather than pursue staffing cuts. While I understand there are no imminent plans to cut current staff, funding for positions that are vacated should be shifted to other departments, including urgent and inpatient care as needed, rather than being cut altogether,” she wrote.