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Washington State News

Washington Officials ‘Outraged’ VA System Hurt Military Families

(The Center Square) – Bipartisan criticism has been leveled by two federal officials from Washington state against failures in a Department of Veterans Affairs recordkeeping system that is blamed for harming nearly 150 military families from Spokane and the surrounding area.  

“I’m outraged,” Eastern Washington Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, wrote in a statement about a draft report by the VA Office of Inspector General. The report points out major flaws in a new electronic records system that have put scores of patients at risk.

In comments released Sunday, McMorris Rodgers said she had repeatedly raised concerns about the system with leaders at the VA and Cerner, a Missouri-based corporation that operates the records system.

She accompanied Donald Remy, deputy secretary of the VA, on a tour last April of the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane so that he could learn more about system failures.

While the federal officials were at the facility, the electronic system went down for 45 minutes, which McMorris Rodgers said underscored ongoing problems.

“Time and time again, my concerns – and the valid concerns raised by veterans and providers – were dismissed,” McMorris Rodgers’ statement read. “It’s now clear the VA and Cerner both knew about major systematic flaws, yet they blatantly disregarded patient safety by rolling out the system to other facilities. These actions are reprehensible and entirely unacceptable for this agency, which has clearly lost sight of its sole mission of serving veterans.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, also issued a scathing statement after The Spokesman-Review reported last weekend that the draft report found thousands of orders from clinicians had gone missing in Cerner’s system that serves the Inland Northwest. 

Murray is a senior member of both the Senate VA Committee, which provides oversight of the Cerner rollout, and the Appropriations Committee, which funds the records system estimated to cost at least $21 billion over a decade.

The OIG report alleges Cerner knew about a flaw in its system that caused more than 11,000 orders for specialty care, lab work, medication, and other services to go missing. There was no indication in the system that these orders had not reached their intended recipients.

The lost orders resulted in delayed care that reportedly left one veteran on the brink of suicide and worsened health problems for dozens of other patients.

The OIG called mitigation efforts by the VA and Cerner to limit the number of orders that get lost “inadequate” and warned of continued risks until the system was fixed.

“The consistent and recurring failures of the EHR System have been completely unacceptable,” Murray said Tuesday. “We’re talking about real safety hazards and life-threatening risk to patients.”

She said it remains her focus to hold the VA and Cerner accountable for problems in the records system that has been piloted in Washington since October 2020.

The report also discloses that Remy and other top officials were briefed last October about the scope of the problem. However, the VA proceeded to deploy the Cerner system in March at facilities in Walla Walla, Richland, Lewiston, Yakima, as well as sites in central Oregon.

Cerner was acquired by Oracle in a $28.3 billion deal that closed June 8. Immediately after finalizing the acquisition, Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, promised to modernize the Cerner system to make it more user-friendly.

“I have already spoken with senior officials at Oracle and impressed upon them the importance of making this right immediately,” Murray said. “I have raised this issue with increasing urgency in both public and private settings with [VA] Secretary McDonough – at numerous Senate hearings and over many calls and meetings with him and other VA officials – and I won’t stop pressing for solutions and accountability until this gets fixed.”