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Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
   Healthcare 
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
   Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
   Leadership 
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
   Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 
A Failure of Oversight at the VA 
IOM Releases Report on Graduate Medical Education 
Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Beyond the AHI 
Multidisciplinary Discussion (MDD) in Interstitial Lung Disease; Some
   Reflections 

 

For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.

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Entries in mismanagement (2)

Wednesday
Nov112015

Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 

Today is Armistice Day, renamed Veterans Day in 1954, to honor our Nation's Veterans. In Washington the rhetoric from both the political right and left supports our Veterans. My cynical side reminds me that this might have something to do with Veterans voting in a higher percentage than the population as a whole, but let me give the politicians this one. Serving our Country in the military is something that deserves to be honored. I was proud to serve our Veterans over 30 years at four Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.

However, the VA has had a very bad year. First, in Washington there were the resignations of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki; the undersecretary for the Veterans Health Administration, Robert Petzel; and the undersecretary for the Veterans Benefits Administration, Allison Hickey. Locally, in the light of the VA wait scandal there were the firing of the Phoenix VA Medical Centers director, Sharon Helman, and her deputies along with the retirement of her boss, Susan Bowers. Furthermore, there seem to be a never-ending string of scandals ranging from the mundane of greed-driven fraud to the more exotic of accusing a VA whistleblower of engaging in sexual threesomes. Despite a healthy increase in funding, there was the threat by VA administrators of closing VA hospitals to meet a VA budget shortfall. This resulted in Congress knuckling under to allow the use of emergency funds. Veterans groups are using billboards to accuse the VA of lying (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Billboard across from the VA October 12, 2015.

I could go on and on. However, the real question is not so much of what dirty deeds are being done, but how the VA administrators get away with it.

There has been both a lack of oversight and lack of accountability. Robert McDonald, who replaced Shinseki, has promised to punish the evil doers but has replaced action with the mantra "all is well" and has done nothing. In several instances wrong-doing has apparently been rewarded, such as Bowers replacement having lied to Congress (1). If the VA cannot police itself-and it apparently cannot-there are a multitude of regulatory agencies that have shirked their oversight responsibilities. I thought it was time to mention a few.

First, there are both the Veterans Integrated Service Networks, the regional VA offices, and VA Central Office itself in Washington. Both these organizations have been caught in the scandals and have done nothing. Second, there is Congress. The House Veterans Affairs Committee has seemed to make a sincere effort to identify some of the problems but Secretary McDonald and his cadre of 11,000 in Central Office has repeatedly stone-walled any investigation and Congress has done nothing. Third, there is the White House. The Obama Administration has seemed more interested in declaring the problem fixed than actually fixing the problem and has done nothing.

Those are the obvious but there are some less obvious regulatory failures. First, there are the multiple hospital inspectors. Within the VA is the Office of Inspector General (IG) who is charged with investigating wrong-doing within the VA. Locally they had been called to Phoenix multiple times including for the wait time scandal but have done nothing. The poor performance resulted in the resignation of the acting VA IG, Richard Griffin, under pressure. Second, there is the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). The Phoenix VA Medical Center managed to go from a "top performer" in 2011 to noncompliant "with U.S. standards for safety, patient care and management" in 2014. Only the naive would believe that a hospital can transition that much in 3 years. There is also the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners and Nursing. Both doctors and nurses were involved in the cover-up of the wait scandal but these boards have done nothing. The VA is the largest system for training future physicians and nurses, and it seems that the future doctors and nurses might not be learning the highest professional and ethical standards. Nonetheless, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and American Association of Colleges of Nursing have done nothing.

However, my personal disgust is highest for the Department of Justice (DOJ). It is known that seventy percent of the hospitals were fudging their wait data. The administrators, not the doctors or nurses, received bonuses for short wait times. None of the administrators have gone to jail or even been charged with fraud. None have even had to repay their bonuses. The DOJ has done nothing. If 70% of the doctors were caught faking data to received bonuses, I have every confidence that the legal eagles at DOJ would gleefully put each and every one on trial.

So what can be done? There appears to be no oversight. This was clearly illustrated in the report from the recent Human Resources (HR) team from Central Office sent to Phoenix to help with what can be kindly described as a dysfunctional department. They were essentially shown the door by the acting director, Glen Grippen, saying that he "calls the shots" (2).

The solution is that Mr. Grippen and others of his ilk should no longer call the shots. They have shown a consistent arrogance and disregard for our Nation's Veterans and those that serve them. He and others need oversight, not by a far-off committee in Washington as President Obama has proposed which will likely fare no better than Congress. Oversight could be best provided by local physicians and nurses who have interest in Veteran care but are not employed by the VA. This used to occur in many VA hospitals and was called the Dean's Committee. The dean of the local medical school along with the chairman of the departments of medicine, surgery, pathology, radiology, and others formed a committee that oversaw care at the VA. The committee had interests in the patient care of Veterans but also in the physicians who were faculty at the local medical school and the medical students, residents and fellows who were under their supervision. This committee was a victim of Ken Kizer's "prescription for change" in the 1990s. Now, this old system might be an antidote for Kizer's prescription which has seemed to turn poison.

The VA is pushing to hire more personnel to deal with wait times and lack of patient care. However, it is unclear how many of the new hires are doctors and nurses contributing to patient care and how many are administrators and bureaucrats.  My experiences and conversations with my colleagues convinces me that not all hospitals are as badly managed as those in the Southwest. Those considering a career at the VA need to carefully investigate each hospital to see if it is the type of place that the leadership will provide the resources to care for the Veterans, which is after all, the definition of leadership.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Wagner D. Department of Veterans Affairs names new regional health director. Arizona Republic. October 15, 2015. Available at: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2015/10/15/department-veterans-affairs-names-new-regional-health-director/73900478/
  2. Wagner D. VA team blasts Phoenix personnel office. Arizona Republic. November 2, 2015. Available at: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/investigations/2015/11/02/va-team-blasts-phoenix-personnel-office/74763366/

Cite as: Robbins RA. Honoring our Nation's Veterans. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;11(5):228-30. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc141-15 PDF

Friday
Nov252011

Mismanagement at the VA: Where’s the Problem? 

Reference as: Robbins RA. Mismanagement at the VA: where's the problem? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2011;3:151-3. (Click here for a PDF version of the editorial)

At the time I retired from my last Veterans Administration (VA) position there was an ongoing investigation into alleged mismanagement of non-VA fee care funds at this hospital. The VA Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) report of this investigation was released on November 8, 2011 (1). The VAOIG report is reflective of a wide-ranging problem of administrators making what are fundamentally clinical decisions and not allowing clinicians to determine the best allocation of resources - issues that are not unique to the VA. 

The VAOIG’s report substantiated that the hospital experienced a budget shortfall of $11.4 million in 2010, 20 percent of the 2010 Non-VA Fee Care Program funds. According to the VAOIG report highlights, “The shortfall occurred because the hospital lacked effective pre-authorization procedures for Long Term Acute Hospital fee care. Additionally, staff did not monitor inpatient fee care patients to determine if the patients could receive services in a VA facility”. As someone who spent about 1 week a month in the intensive care unit and cared for several of the patients who ultimately were transferred to receive long term acute hospital fee care, these recommendations seem inconsistent with the facts.

The purpose of the Non-VA Fee Care Program is to assist Veterans who cannot easily receive care at a VA medical facility. This program pays the medical care costs of patients to non-VA providers when the VA is unable to provide specific treatments or provide treatment economically. To initiate non-VA care, clinicians sent a consult form to a physician designated by the chief of staff for review. Almost all of the fee care claims were approved. The single, approving physician received hundreds of requests per week and lacked both the expertise and time to perform a detailed review of the requests.

Among the problems singled out by the VAOIG’s report was the use of long term acute care for the purposes of ventilator weaning. The report suggests that there was no determination of whether the VA could provide these services. To my knowledge there was no VA facility that provided long term ventilator care within 100 miles of the hospital.

It is known that predicting the ability to wean a patient from long-term mechanical ventilation is imprecise (2). According to the VAOIG’s report “…30 days was a reasonable limit to attempt ventilator weaning. If the veteran had not weaned in that time, then the [hospital] needed to re-evaluate the appropriateness of continued weaning and consider alternative medical options.” Thirty days is considerably shorter than the 3 months recommended by a collective task force from the American College of Chest Physicians; the American Association for Respiratory Care; and the American College of Critical Care Medicine (2).

The VAOIG report estimated that overspending on long term acute care resulted in $4.5 million of the nearly 12 million dollar in over spending. Although it is not clear how this figure was calculated, it is almost certainly an over estimate of the potential cost savings since these patients require care whether in an acute care facility for weaning or a long-term care facility and is based on a 30 day period rather than a 90 day period of weaning

Later in the VAOIG report two additional problems are identified which more likely explain the overspending: inadequate budgeting and inadequate accounting. Not knowing how much is being spent from an inadequate budget is a problem, but there is also another, more fundamental problem not identified in the VAOIG’s report. Why was there no VA acute care or long term facility available to care for these patients? There is certainly sufficient medical expertise within the VA to perform these services. It seems likely that a comparatively small investment in an appropriate facility could have resulted in considerable savings.

There is no convincing evidence presented in the VAOIG’s report that the non-VA services requested were inappropriate. Yet, the VAOIG’s report suggests replacing the lone, over-worked, part-time clinician with inadequate expertise with a full-time person or committee. These approving official(s) will probably also lack the expertise necessary to make these clinical decisions and do little more than harass clinicians for paperwork and documentation while inadequately reviewing the charts and avoiding responsibility for any decisions.

In response to the discovery of the shortfall, the hospital initiated several interim approaches to save money including a hiring freeze. This seems reasonable, but in the middle of the hiring freeze, administration did hire an assistant director into a newly created position. However, clinical personnel who had left or retired were not replaced. Second, the chief of staff who oversaw this shortfall placed a measure on the clinicians’ performance plan that non-VA fee basis spending be reduced compared to the previous year. Yet, according to the VAOIG’s report, the problem appeared to be inadequate budgeting and accounting rather than overspending. Not surprisingly, morale suffered and was reflected in an employee survey which ranked in the bottom 10% of the VA in 5 of the 6 categories surveyed. In order to improve these scores, the chief of staff charged the chiefs of each service with improving morale when the problem appeared to lie a little closer to home. Lastly, the hospital determined that chronic ventilator patients be held in the ICU in order to save non-VA fee expenses. The cost of this decision is that when the ICU is full, that VA patients needing ICU care are transferred to another hospital, a cost paid by the VA. Whether this administrative decision will save money is unknown.

This VAOIG’s report fails to emphasize the major problems, i.e., failure of the administration to work with the clinicians, inadequate budgeting and inadequate accounting. Rather than suggesting reasonable solutions, the VAOIG’s report rewards these administrative blunders by offering increasing administrative control over clinicians and apparently increasing administrative personnel as solutions. These recommendations do nothing other than waste resources which could be used for care of Veteran patients.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care

 

References

  1. http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-11-02280-23.pdf (accessed 11/17/11).
  2. MacIntyre NR, Cook DJ, Ely EW Jr, Epstein SK, Fink JB, Heffner JE, Hess D, Hubmayer RD, Scheinhorn DJ; American College of Chest Physicians; American Association for Respiratory Care; American College of Critical Care Medicine. Evidence-based guidelines for weaning and discontinuing ventilatory support: a collective task force facilitated by the American College of Chest Physicians; the American Association for Respiratory Care; and the American College of Critical Care Medicine. Chest 2001;120:375S-95S.

Editor’s note: Since this budget shortfall came to light, the hospital director retired for medical reasons; the chief of staff was transferred to another VISN as VISN chief medical officer; and the associate director has left the hospital.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are the opinions of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care or the Arizona Thoracic Society.