VA delays rollout of IT system that caused problems in Spokane, citing COVID-19 surge

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Friday that it will delay the expansion of a struggling computer system already in use in Spokane by two months, pushing back the deployment to a VA hospital in Ohio until the end of April in due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.

The new electronic health record system – developed by Cerner Corp. to replace the VA’s existing system used to coordinate care and track patient information — has resulted in safety risks and delayed care since it was rolled out at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane in October. 2020, a Spokesman-Review investigation found in December.

In a press release, the VA official newly tasked with overseeing the program said the planned March 5 deployment to a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, was no longer possible because the national surge in coronavirus cases had caused shortages. staff and forced the department to delay training employees on the new system.

“As we watch the pandemic escalate in the Columbus community, we need to support healthcare professionals as they focus their attention on meeting the healthcare needs of their patients,” said Terry Adirim, Executive Director of the VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization Integration Program. Office, adding that the rollout of the new system “must be balanced against community health and can be resumed when it is appropriate to do so”.

According to the press release, more than 200 employees at the Columbus plant were unable to work, although it was unclear how many of those workers had contracted COVID-19. As of late November, the VA’s facilities in central Ohio had a total of about 1,700 employees, according to local VA spokesman Mark McCann.

The next VA medical center to adopt the new system is in Walla Walla on March 26, according to a tentative schedule released by the department in November. On a call with reporters, VA spokeswoman Melissa Bryant said the department would likely delay “go-live” dates at Walla Walla and other facilities, though she wouldn’t. has announced new dates for any other site.

“We will re-evaluate the entire deployment slate,” said Bryant, the VA’s deputy assistant secretary for public affairs. “We will try to stay on track as much as possible. That said, with omicron throwing a wrench into things, so to speak, this is where it can potentially slip.

Following planned deployments of the Cerner system in Columbus and Walla Walla, the next sites on VA’s tentative schedule are Roseburg and White City, Oregon on June 11, followed by Boise on June 25, Anchorage, Alaska on July 16 and several large facilities in the Puget Sound area on August 27.

Cerner signed a $10 billion contract with the VA in May 2018 to build an electronic health record system similar to a system Cerner has begun implementing at Department of Defense medical facilities, beginning with Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane in 2017. A federal oversight agency found that the VA had severely underestimated the cost of the project, which was years behind schedule, projecting a total cost of around $21 billion. Tech giant Oracle announced Dec. 20 that it is acquiring Cerner in a deal worth $28.3 billion.

Gordon K. Morehouse