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Washington State News

Murray Criticizes Spokane VA for Endangering Patients with Faulty Records

(The Center Square) – U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, said “It is absolutely unacceptable” that patients are being put at risk by failures in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ electronic health records system.

Murray toured Spokane, Washington’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center this week to learn more about what had gone wrong with the new system developed by Cerner Corporation. The company signed a $10 billion contract in 2018 to deliver the new system. However, final costs are now expected to top $16 billion.

“The doctors and nurses and everyone working here at Mann-Grandstaff really care about their work and they care about their mission, but right now they are bogged down by a faulty electronic health record system that is not working for them,” Murray told reporters from the Spokesman-Review, KREM, and KHQ before meeting Thursday with veterans and employees at the hospital.

The new system rolled out two years ago at Mann-Grandstaff with VA plans to slowly replace the older electronic health records model still being used by nearly all of the agency’s more than 1,200 facilities nationwide.  

A draft report by the VA Office of Inspector General recently found that senior officials in the agency approved the system’s continued launch despite knowing that glitches had not been fully resolved.

According to the report, problems with the system caused referral orders submitted by doctors and nurses not to be delivered to their intended recipients, resulting in delayed care. A reported 148 patients were harmed by these failures. 

On at least two occasions in Spokane, local veterans had their medications mistakenly stopped due to a problem with health records. One veteran was hospitalized after heart medication was dropped off the list in records.

Murray took credit during the July 7 visit for VA Secretary Denis McDonough’s decision to delay further implementation of the new system in Seattle and other sites west of the Cascades.

She said bringing the system to larger and more complex facilities before problems had been ironed out would be “catastrophic.”

Murray was asked by a reporter what it would take for her to consider putting a permanent stop to the project, something she is positioned to do as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which funds the project. She said that she is still committed to seeing the effort through.  

“The system that we had prior was outdated and not working,” she said. “That has not changed. But that fact is, until we get this right – and it is not yet right – we need to fix it and we need to really have the VA and the administration focus on getting this done and then expand it to other people.”

Murray said she had recently spoken with executives at the tech giant Oracle, which acquired Cerner in a $28.3 billion deal that closed in June. She stated her intent to hold the new parent company accountable for improvements.

“I want to say ‘this is going to get fixed, it will get fixed,’ but I’ve seen too many things go wrong to give you that confidence until Oracle’s on the ground, and has the ability to really look at it,” she said. “They’ve told me and the VA that they have the top quality people to do that. I’ll believe them when I see it.”