Murray and McMorris Rodgers demand VA halt launch of IT system in Walla Walla after reports surface ongoing problems at Spokane hospital

WASHINGTON — A “furious” Washington senator has called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to halt the launch of a new computer system in Walla Walla after an oversight agency revealed Thursday that dozens of problems with the system remained unsolved. resolved at the VA Hospital in Spokane.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat who sits on the VA Senate committee, said a trilogy of reports from the VA’s office of the inspector general showed department leaders had not been honest about the extent of the problems caused by the electronic health record system – how much health care providers rely on them to track patient information and coordinate care – since its launch at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane in October 2020.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to me for VA to be aware of the widespread and egregious patient safety risks associated with its ongoing deployment” of the system, Murray said in a statement, “but in conversations with my office, VA has expressed his confidence and readiness for the go-date live at the Walla Walla VA It just wasn’t the case.

The new system, developed by Cerner Corp. part of a $16 billion effort to replace an existing system still in use by all other VA facilities, is scheduled to launch at the Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla on March 26. in Ohio facilities being delayed to allow for more training, the senior VA official in charge of the program told The Spokesman-Review on March 7 that the department still intends to deploy the system to Walla Walla in delays.

In the three reports, the Office of Inspector General said it documented 46 different issues identified by veterans and AV employees, 38 of which remain unresolved nearly a year and a half after the system was launched in Mann. -Grandstaff and its affiliated clinics in Spokane. , Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Wenatchee and Libby, Montana.

Although reports identified no patient deaths associated with the issues, VA Inspector General Michael Missal said he discovered “serious deficiencies and failures” that “increased patient safety risks and made harder for clinicians to deliver quality healthcare,” and the same would happen at other sites if left unaddressed.

Although the OIG did not identify any associated patient deaths during this inspection, future deployment of the new EHR without addressing the deficiencies may increase patient safety risks.

Reported issues include veterans’ prescriptions and other information not being properly imported into the new system, prescriptions being interrupted by the system, and issues with the scheduling component of the system resulting in delayed care.

“I don’t want to see the EHR system move an inch forward in Washington State,” Murray said in his statement, “until VA proves to me that they’ve fixed the issues in Spokane and provided clear and objective data showing resolutions to concerns raised by the Inspector General’s reports.

The Washington Democrat’s statement came several weeks after Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., asked VA to halt rollout of the system in Walla Walla until it resolves lingering issues at Spokane, many of whom have been identified by a spokesperson. investigation in December.

McMorris Rodgers spokesperson Kyle VonEnde said in an email that the Spokane MP was “deeply concerned about the findings” of the inspector general’s reports and stood by the request she had. February 3 to VA Secretary Denis McDonough to delay the launch of the system in Walla Walla.

“They confirm what she has been saying all along: the electronic health record system has serious issues that need to be addressed,” VonEnde wrote. “Until then, its deployment in the Walla Walla VA must be delayed.”

The VA’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Government Accountability have released more than a dozen other reports since 2019 detailing many of the same issues with the Cerner system, but the reports released Thursday represent the account. rendered the most comprehensive issue to date.

The reports do not address the most recent in a series of problems the system has caused in the Inland Northwest, an error caused by a software patch that corrupted patient data and forced Mann-Grandstaff to restrict operations and cease operations. to admit new patients on March 3.

After the partial work stoppage, Murray said rollout of the system to Walla Walla should be delayed if there was any doubt the facility could “deliver the high-quality care our veterans deserve.” When the system launches in Walla Walla, it will also be rolled out to that hospital’s associated clinics in Lewiston, Richland, Yakima and the northeastern Oregon towns of Boardman, Enterprise and La Grande.

The Inspector General’s reports recognized the extraordinary efforts of VA employees at Mann-Grandstaff and its associated clinics, who “encountered challenges with the new EHR but remained unfazed and dedicated to serving patients despite the added burden of stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic”. Problems with the Cerner system have raised concerns that VA will have an even harder time retaining its workforce, as employees are forced to work longer hours and deal with additional frustration caused by the new system.

According to one of the reports, Mann-Grandstaff employees “expressed their passionate commitment to the mission of serving veterans,” but said VA and Cerner’s response to their concerns about the system caused them to relent. feel “unheard”, “abandoned” and “disrespected”.

In response to the reports, Democratic leaders of the House and Senate VA committees issued statements expressing concern but did not call for the launch of Walla Walla to be delayed. Rep. Frank Mrvan of Indiana, chairman of a House VA subcommittee focused on Cerner’s deployment, said he would host a roundtable on April 5 with VA employees from Spokane, Walla Walla, and Columbus, Ohio. , and a public hearing on April 26.

A spokesperson for Cerner referred questions to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a statement, a VA spokeswoman said the department is “actively working to assess all sets of identified issues and develop action plans for any unresolved issues,” and still intends to launch the system. Cerner in Walla Walla on March 26 and in Columbus, Ohio on April 30.

Gordon K. Morehouse