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General Medicine

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

Tacrolimus-Associated Diabetic Ketoacidosis: A Case Report and Literature 
   Review
Nursing Magnet Hospitals Have Better CMS Hospital Compare Ratings
Publish or Perish: Tools for Survival
Is Quality of Healthcare Improving in the US?
Survey Shows Support for the Hospital Executive Compensation Act
The Disruptive Administrator: Tread with Care
A Qualitative Systematic Review of the Professionalization of the 
   Vice Chair for Education
Nurse Practitioners' Substitution for Physicians
National Health Expenditures: The Past, Present, Future and Solutions
Credibility and (Dis)Use of Feedback to Inform Teaching : A Qualitative
   Case Study of Physician-Faculty Perspectives
Special Article: Physician Burnout-The Experience of Three Physicians
Brief Review: Dangers of the Electronic Medical Record
Finding a Mentor: The Complete Examination of an Online Academic 
   Matchmaking Tool for Physician-Faculty
Make Your Own Mistakes
Professionalism: Capacity, Empathy, Humility and Overall Attitude
Professionalism: Secondary Goals 
Professionalism: Definition and Qualities
Professionalism: Introduction
The Unfulfilled Promise of the Quality Movement
A Comparison Between Hospital Rankings and Outcomes Data
Profiles in Medical Courage: John Snow and the Courage of
   Conviction
Comparisons between Medicare Mortality, Readmission and 
   Complications
In Vitro Versus In Vivo Culture Sensitivities:
   An Unchecked Assumption?
Profiles in Medical Courage: Thomas Kummet and the Courage to
   Fight Bureaucracy
Profiles in Medical Courage: The Courage to Serve
   and Jamie Garcia
Profiles in Medical Courage: Women’s Rights and Sima Samar
Profiles in Medical Courage: Causation and Austin Bradford Hill
Profiles in Medical Courage: Evidence-Based 
   Medicine and Archie Cochrane
Profiles of Medical Courage: The Courage to Experiment and 
   Barry Marshall
Profiles in Medical Courage: Joseph Goldberger,
   the Sharecropper’s Plague, Science and Prejudice
Profiles in Medical Courage: Peter Wilmshurst,
   the Physician Fugitive
Correlation between Patient Outcomes and Clinical Costs
   in the VA Healthcare System
Profiles in Medical Courage: Of Mice, Maggots 
   and Steve Klotz
Profiles in Medical Courage: Michael Wilkins
   and the Willowbrook School
Relationship Between The Veterans Healthcare Administration
   Hospital Performance Measures And Outcomes 

 

Although the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care was started as a pulmonary/critical care/sleep journal, we have received and continue to receive submissions that are of general medical interest. For this reason, a new section entitled General Medicine was created on 3/14/12. Some articles were moved from pulmonary to this new section since it was felt they fit better into this category.

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Entries in healthcare administration (2)

Friday
Apr062012

Correlation between Patient Outcomes and Clinical Costs in the VA Healthcare System

Richard A. Robbins, M.D.1

Richard Gerkin, M.D.2

Clement U. Singarajah, M.D.1

1Phoenix Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Research and Education Foundation and 2Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ

 

Abstract

Introduction: Increased nursing staffing levels have previously been associated with improved patient outcomes.  However, the effects of physician staffing and other clinical care costs on clinical outcomes are unknown.

Methods: Databases from the Department of Veterans Affairs were searched for clinical outcome data including 30-day standardized mortality rate (SMR), observed minus expected length of stay (OMELOS) and readmission rate. These were correlated with costs including total, drug, lab, radiology, physician (MD), and registered nurse (RN), other clinical personnel costs and non-direct care costs.

Results: Relevant data were obtained from 105 medical centers. Higher total costs correlated with lower intensive care unit (ICU) SMR (r=-0.2779, p<0.05) but not acute care (hospital) SMR. Higher costs for lab, radiology, MD and other direct care staff costs and total direct care costs correlated with lower ICU and acute care SMR (p<0.05, all comparisons). Higher RN costs correlated only with ICU SMR. None of the clinical care costs correlated with ICU or acute care OMELOS with the exception of higher MD costs correlating with longer OMELOS. Higher clinical costs correlated with higher readmission rates (p<0.05, all comparisons). Nonclinical care costs (total costs minus direct clinical care costs) did not correlate with any outcome.

Conclusions: Monies spent on clinical care generally improve SMR. Monies spent on nonclinical care generally do not correlate with outcomes.

Introduction

Previous studies have demonstrated that decreased nurse staffing adversely affects patient outcomes including mortality in some studies (1-5). However, these studies have been criticized because studies are typically cross-sectional in design and do not account for differences in patients’ requirements for nursing care. Other observers have asked whether differences in mortality are linked not to nursing but to unmeasured variables correlated with nurse staffing (6-9). In this context, we correlate mortality with costs associated with other clinical expenditures including drug, lab, radiology, physician (MD), and other clinical personnel costs.

The observed minus the expected length of stay (OMELOS) and readmission rates are two outcome measures that are thought to measure quality of care. It is often assumed that increased OMELOS or readmission rates are associated with increased expenditures (10,11). However, data demonstrating this association are scant. Therefore, we also examined clinical care costs with OMELOS and readmission rates.

Methods

The study was approved by the Western IRB.  

Hospital level of care. For descriptive purposes, hospitals were grouped into levels of care. These are classified into 4 levels: highly complex (level 1); complex (level 2); moderate (level 3), and basic (level 4). In general, level 1 facilities and some level 2 facilities represent large urban, academic teaching medical centers.

Clinical outcomes. SMR and OMELOS were obtained from the Inpatient Evaluation Center (IPEC) for fiscal year 2009 (12). Because this is a restricted website, the data for publication were obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. SMR was calculated as the observed number of patients admitted to an acute care ward or ICU who died within 30 days divided by the number of predicted deaths for the acute care ward or ICU. Admissions to a VA nursing home, rehabilitation or psychiatry ward were excluded. Observed minus expected length of stay (OMELOS) was determined by subtracting the observed length of stay minus the predicted length of stay for the acute care ward or ICU from the risk adjusted length of stay model (12). Readmission rate was expressed as a percentage of patients readmitted within 30 days.

Financial data. Financial data were obtained from the VSSC menu formerly known as the klf menu.  Because this is also a restricted website, the data for publication were also obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In each case, data were expressed as costs per unique in order to compare expenditures between groups. MD and RN costs reported on the VSSC menu were not expressed per unique but only per full time equivalent employee (FTE). To convert to MD or RN cost per unique, the costs per FTE were converted to MD or RN cost per unique as below (MD illustrated):

Similarly, all other direct care personnel costs/unique was calculated as below:

Direct care costs were calculated as the sum of drug, lab, x-ray, MD, RN, and other direct care personnel costs. Non-direct care costs were calculated as total costs minus direct care costs.

Correlation of Outcomes with Costs. Pearson correlation coefficient was used to determine the relationship between outcomes and costs. Significance was defined as p<0.05.

Results

Costs: The average cost per unique was $6058. Direct care costs accounted for 53% of the costs while non-direct costs accounted for 47% of the costs (Table 1 and Appendix 1).

Table 1. Average and percent of total costs/unique.

Hospital level. Data were available from 105 VA medical centers with acute care wards and 98 with ICUs. Consistent with previous data showing improved outcomes with larger medical centers, hospitals with higher levels of care (i.e. hospitals with lower level numbers) had decreased ICU SMR (Table 2). Higher levels of care also correlated with decreased ICU OMELOS and readmission rates (Table 2). For full data and other correlations see Appendix 1.

Table 2. Hospital level of care compared to outcomes. Lower hospital level numbers represent hospitals with higher levels of care.

 

*p<0.05

SMR. Increased total costs correlated with decreased intensive care unit (ICU) SMR (Table 3, r=-0.2779, p<0.05) but not acute care (hospital) SMR. Increased costs for lab, radiology, MD and other direct care staff costs and total direct care costs also correlated with decreased SMR for both ICU and acute care SMR (p<0.05, all comparisons). However, drug costs did not correlate with either acute care or ICU SMR. Increased RN costs correlated with improved ICU SMR but not acute care SMR. For full data and other correlations see Appendix 1.

Table 3. Correlation of SMR and costs.

*p<0.05

OMELOS. There was no correlation between SMR and OMELOS for either acute care (r= -0.0670) or ICU (r= -0.1553). There was no correlation between acute care or ICU OMELOS and clinical expenditures other than higher MD costs positively correlated with increased OMELOS (Table 4, p<0.05, both comparisons).

Table 4. Correlation of OMELOS and costs

*p<0.05

Readmission rate. There was no correlation between readmission rates and acute care SMR (r= -0.0074) or ICU SMR (r= 0.0463).Total and all clinical care costs directly correlated with readmission rates while non-direct clinical care costs did not (Table 5).

Table 5.Correlation of readmission rates and costs.

*p<0.05

Discussion

The data in this manuscript demonstrate that most clinical costs are correlated with a decreased or improved SMR Only MD costs correlate with OMELOS but all clinical costs directly correlate with increased readmission rates. However, non-direct care costs do not correlate with any clinical outcome.

A number of studies have examined nurse staffing.  Increased nurse staffing levels are associated with improved outcomes, including mortality in some studies (1-5). The data in the present manuscript confirm those observations in the ICU but not for acute care (hospital). However, these data also demonstrate that higher lab, X-ray and MD costs also correlate with improved SMR. Interestingly, the strongest correlation with both acute care and ICU mortality was MD costs. We speculate that these observations are potentially explained that with rare exception, nearly all physicians see patients in the VA system. The same is not true for nurses. A number of nurses are employed in non-patient care roles such as administration, billing, quality assurance, etc. It is unclear to what extent nurses without patient care responsibilities were included in the RN costs.

These data support that readmission rates are associated with higher costs but do not support that increased OMELOS is associated with higher costs implying that efforts to decrease OMELOS may be largely wasted since they do not correlate with costs or mortality. It is unclear whether the increased costs with readmissions are because readmissions lead to higher costs or the higher clinical care costs cause the higher readmissions, although the former seem more likely.

These data are derived from the VA, the Nation’s largest healthcare system. The VA system has unique features and actual amounts spent on direct and non-direct clinical care may differ from other healthcare systems. There may be aspects of administrative costs that are unique to the VA system, although it is very likely there is applicability of these findings to other healthcare systems. 

A major weakness of these data is that it is self reported. Data reported to central reporting agencies may be confusing with overlapping cost centers. Furthermore, personnel or other costs might be assigned to inappropriate cost centers in order to meet certain administrative goals. For example, 5 nurses and 1 PhD scientist were assigned to the pulmonary clinic at the Phoenix VA Medical Center while none performed any services in that clinic (Robbins RA, unpublished observations). These types of errors could lead to inaccurate or inappropriate conclusions after data analysis.

A second weakness is that the observational data reported in this manuscript are analyzed by correlation.  Correlation of decreased clinical care spending with increased mortality does not necessarily imply causation (13). For example, clinical costs are increased with readmission rates. However, readmission rates may also be higher with sicker patients who require readmission more frequently. The increased costs could simply represent the higher costs of caring for sicker patients.

A third weakness is that non-direct care costs are poorly defined by these databases. These costs likely include such essential services as support service personnel, building maintenance, food preparation, utilities, etc. but also include administrative costs. Which of these services account for variation in non-direct clinical costs is unknown. However, administrative efficiency is known to be poor and declining in the US, with increasing numbers of administrators leading to increasing administrative costs (14).

A number of strategies to control medical expenditures have been initiated, although these have almost invariably been directed at clinical costs. Programs designed to limit clinical expenditures such as utilization reviews of lab or X-ray expenditures or decreasing clinical MD or RN personnel have become frequent.  Even if costs are reduced, the present data imply that these programs may adversely affect patient mortality, suggesting that caution in limiting clinical expenses are needed. In addition, programs have been initiated to reduce both OMELOS and readmission rates. Since neither costs nor mortality correlate with OMELOS, these data imply that programs focusing on reducing OMELOS are unlikely to be successful in improving mortality or in reducing costs.

Non-direct patient care costs accounted for nearly half of the total healthcare costs in this study. It is unknown which cost centers account for variability in non-clinical areas. Since non-direct care costs do not correlate with outcomes, focus on administrative efficiency could be a reasonable performance measure to reduce costs. Such a performance measure has been developed by the Inpatient and Evaluation Center at the VA (15). This or similar measures should be available to policymakers to provide better care at lower costs and to incentivize administrators to adopt practices that lead to increased efficiency.

References

  1. Needleman J, Buerhaus P, Mattke S, Stewart M, Zelevinsky K. Nurse-staffing levels and the quality of care in hospitals. N Engl J Med 2002;346:1715-22.
  2. Aiken LH, Clarke SP, Sloane DM, Sochalski J, Silber JH. Hospital nurse staffing and patient mortality, nurse burnout, and job dissatisfaction. JAMA 2002;288:1987-93.
  3. Aiken LH, Cimiotti JP, Sloane DM, Smith HL, Flynn L, Neff DF. Effects of nurse staffing and nurse education on patient deaths in hospitals with different nurse work environments. Med Care 2011;49:1047-53.
  4. Diya L, Van den Heede K, Sermeus W, Lesaffre E. The relationship between in-hospital mortality, readmission into the intensive care nursing unit and/or operating theatre and nurse staffing levels. J Adv Nurs 2011 Aug 25. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2011.05812.x. [Epub ahead of print]
  5. Cho SH, Hwang JH, Kim J. Nurse staffing and patient mortality in intensive care units. Nurs Res 2008;57:322-30.
  6. Volpp KG, Rosen AK, Rosenbaum PR, Romano PS, Even-Shoshan O, Canamucio A, Bellini L, Behringer T, Silber JH. Mortality among patients in VA hospitals in the first 2 years following ACGME resident duty hour reform. JAMA 2007;298:984-92.
  7. Lagu T, Rothberg MB, Nathanson BH, Pekow PS, Steingrub JS, Lindenauer PK. The relationship between hospital spending and mortality in patients with sepsis. Arch Intern Med 2011;171:292-9.
  8. Cleverley WO, Cleverley JO. Is there a cost associated with higher quality? Healthc Financ Manage 2011;65:96-102.
  9. Chen LM, Jha AK, Guterman S, Ridgway AB, Orav EJ, Epstein AM. Hospital cost of care, quality of care, and readmission rates: penny wise and pound foolish? Arch Intern Med 2010;170:340-6.
  10. Render ML, Almenoff P. The veterans health affairs experience in measuring and reporting inpatient mortality. In Mortality Measurement. February 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/mortality/VAMort.htm
  11. Jencks SF, Williams MV, Coleman EA. Rehospitalizations among patients in the Medicare fee-for-service program. N Engl J Med;360:1418-28.
  12. Render ML, Kim HM, Deddens J, Sivaganesin S, Welsh DE, Bickel K, Freyberg R, Timmons S, Johnston J, Connors AF Jr, Wagner D, Hofer TP. Variation in outcomes in Veterans Affairs intensive care units with a computerized severity measure. Crit Care Med 2005;33:930-9.
  13. Aldrich J. Correlations genuine and spurious in Pearson and Yule. Statistical Science 1995;10:364-76.
  14. Woolhandler S, Campbell T, Himmelstein DU. Health care administration in the United States and Canada: micromanagement, macro costs. Int J Health Serv. 2004;34:65-78.
  15. Gao J, Moran E, Almenoff PL, Render ML, Campbell J, Jha AK. Variations in efficiency and the relationship to quality of care in the Veterans health system. Health Aff (Millwood) 2011;30:655-63.

Click here for Appendix 1.

Reference as: Robbins RA, Gerkin R, Singarajah CU. Correlation between patient outcomes and clinical costs in the va healthcare system. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:94-100. (Click here for a PDF version)

Friday
Mar302012

Profiles in Medical Courage: Of Mice, Maggots and Steve Klotz

“I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”-Harry S. Truman 

Mice and maggots bring to mind visions of filth and decay with an accompanying sense of sickening revulsion-hardly the impression you want associated with a hospital. However, an infestation of mice and maggots did occur in a hospital- not in medieval Europe as you might expect, but in 1998 at the Kansas City Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital. Although the mice and maggots are the attention grabbers, the story is worth repeating because it illustrates how dysfunctional modern hospitals can become and how Steve Klotz tried to affect change by speaking against the management that allowed the situation to occur.

To understand the story, we need to go back to 1995, ancient history to our fellows, residents and medical students but not so ancient to lots of us. Many Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals were called Dean’s hospitals and had a special relationship with a local medical school (1). Each of these hospitals had a Dean’s committee, made up of officials from the VA and the local medical school. This committee approved physician hires and had a voice in most major decisions affecting the medical school faculty at the VA. The rationale for such an arrangement was the VA would not be able to hire high-quality faculty unless associated with a medical school where the faculty had an appointment. Overall this arrangement had served the VA well since shortly after World War II. The VA did get first rate faculty resulting in a level of care that could not be provided to Veterans by less qualified practioners.

However, not everyone was happy with the arrangement, particularly the hospital administrators. At that time, the administrators were in charge of the Medical Administration Service (MAS). This service supervised the business functions of the hospital (fiscal, human resources, purchasing, etc.) and several of the non-medical services (food preparation, janitorial services, security, etc.). The medical functions were headed by the chief of staff. The hospital director and the chief of staff had a shared and equal partnership between the hospital director and the chief of staff.

The administrators argued that the arrangement was disadvantageous to the VA in several ways. First, it gave the medical school, and therefore, the physicians too much voice in hospital operations. Second, physicians were often hired to fill medical school needs rather than VA needs. Third, the physician hires were often subspecialist and there was a move at the VA to emphasize primary care. Fourth, split responsibilities sometimes resulted in conflicts that were not easily resolved. Dr. Ken Kizer, then Under Secretary for Veterans Health Affairs in charge of all VA hospitals, was persuaded to dissolve the partnership and make the hospital director the ultimate authority at the hospitals in his Prescription for Change (2).

Against this background, Dr. Steve Klotz, an infectious disease specialist was consulted on two patients in the Kansas City VA ICU with nasal myasis (3). The first case occurred in July, 1998. The myasis was thought to be due to flies having direct access to the hospital through open windows during construction. However, after the second case in September, 1998, Klotz called his brother, John Klotz, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside. He advised sending some of the flies and maggots to Nancy Hinkle, an entomologist with expertise on flies. She identified the flies and maggots as the green blowfly and explained to Klotz that these flies prefer to lay their eggs in mice carcasses. She suggested that the presence of green blowfly maggots suggested that the hospital had a mouse infestation.

In agreement with Dr. Hinkle’s speculation, the Kansas City VA was known to have a mouse problem preceding and coincident with the two cases of myasis (3). In response to this problem, warfarin-based mouse bait had been scattered throughout the hospital by a pest control contractor. However, this approach was largely unsuccessful. Numerous mice were observed during the daylight hours on all hospital floors. In some patient wards mice were being cared for as pets by the nursing personnel. Mice were so common in the building that they scampered over the feet of the associate hospital director during administrative morning report in the hospital director’s suite.

On learning of the egg-laying preferences of the blowfly, the warfarin baits and traps were replaced with live traps. The results of mouse captures showed the mice to be centered on the fourth floor of the hospital where the canteen was located (3). During an infection control inspection of the canteen and hospital canteen, inspectors discovered mouse carcasses in food storage rooms adjacent to the canteen on glue boards, mouse nests behind boxes on food shelves in the canteen, live mice trapped in a large wastebasket, and mouse droppings covering the floor of the canteen work room.

However, the above did not explain why there was a mouse problem.  All VA hospitals have canteens, many are in older buildings, and most do not have a mouse problem. It was apparent from the results of the live trappings and the canteen inspection that the mice seemed centered around the canteen (3). However, the real clue to the cause came when Klotz asked the janitors (S. Klotz, personal communication). They pointed out that a computer program had been purchased to indicate when rooms would be cleaned. The head of housekeeping was removed during downsizing along with the night time janitor who cleaned the canteen. However, the canteen and its storage rooms were not on the cleaning schedule. The janitors pointed out that these rooms had not been cleaned by housekeeping personnel for at least a year and every canteen employee was aware of the magnitude of the mouse problem (3).

Given that this was an interesting chain of epidemiological events, Klotz published the results of his investigations on March 25, 2002 (3). Action by VA Central Office was swift. Anthony Principi, Secretary of Veterans Affairs removed the regional network director, Patricia Crosetti, and ordered a full investigation. Principi would likely have removed the acting hospital director, Kent Hill, except that he was just hired. Hill had replaced the previous hospital director, Hugh Doran, who resigned after being filmed soliciting prostitution on “John TV”.  

Even prior to publication of the article, Klotz had phone calls from Hill and was told “not to talk to anyone” (4). The VISN headquarters in Kansas City closed a research lab with six employees that Klotz had formerly supervised. The employees were keyed out of the lab. Crosetti, the VISN director who had been removed, was heard to say ‘‘Klotz ain’t gonna work for the VA anymore” (4).

The publicity caused Congress to be involved and a field hearing was held at the Kansas City VA in June, 2002 (4). Klotz appeared as a witness and went first. Although he discussed the mice and maggot problem, he focused on five major root causes which he thought led to the incident:

  1. “The addition of an entire cadre of middle managers who embrace a business model of management. These managers have fiscal oversight in the clinical side of the organization and are neither sufficiently knowledgeable nor trained in the areas they supervise.
  2. The hospital director has more real power than the chief of staff. There is no equal partnership.
  3. A sundering of any meaningful relationship with local medical schools.
  4. Individuals in the organization with direct patient care, for example, physicians and nurses, have no meaningful influence in the organization of patient care.
  5. Supervisory positions are all too frequently held until retirement.”

To support his claims he showed that the number of doctors and nurses caring for the patients decreased in the VA while the number of support personnel increased (Table 1).

 

Yet the number of patients and expenditures had increased (Table 2).

When all of this was occurring, it appeared as if the possession of real credentials for a job position was grounds for immediate disqualification at the Kansas City VA according to Klotz (4). For example, “an engineer was given authority over pharmacy and housekeeping, disciplines for which he was untrained and had only superficial knowledge. Internists were placed in direct charge of subspecialty surgeons whose specific requirements often went unmet. A nonphysician was placed in charge of pathology and radiology”. The chief of pulmonary was asked to set a broken arm. When he refused, he was asked “You’re a doctor, aren’t you?” The position of Chief of Staff was eliminated because it was “obsolete”.  

Testimony was given by a representative from the office of inspector general (IG). He stated that most of the environmental problems identified during the April, 2002 inspection ordered by Principi fell into one of several categories: 1. An overall lack of cleanliness; 2 Failure to maintain equipment, furniture, utilities, hospital services; and 3. Inadequate pest control (4). Not mentioned is that 10 months prior to this report the IG had visited the Kansas City VA on a routine visit (5). Although rodent problems were identified by the employees, the IG’s recommended action was to remove the rodent traps from patient areas and the canteen.

Officials from the VA management testified next. Although there were multiple administrators that testified, particularly revealing were the testimonies of Doran, the former director of the Kansas City VA, and Robert Roswell, then Under Secretary of Veterans Health Affairs.

Doran went first. He stated that, “The unfortunate incident involving the maggots was handled expeditiously and appropriately by our staff.” This was the last time he mentioned any of his staff in a positive light. He went on to say that his first priority had been patient care and that he had initiated a number of construction projects towards this end. According to Doran, the problems arose from the Kansas City VA being an older building with an inadequate budget. Attacking Klotz he said, “There is absolutely no evidence to establish a relationship between the two nasal myasis cases and the alleged mouse problem. You have an obviously disgruntled former employee’s opinion who managed to get the article published.” Doran went on to tout his accomplishments at the Kansas City VA, particularly noting his Joint Commission on Healthcare Organization (JCAHO) scores. He noted that the JCAHO had recently inspected the hospital and found no problems. However, he failed to acknowledge the nurses, doctors and support personnel who were responsible for the success.

The ranking minority member, Dr. Bob Filner (D, CA) was unconvinced. By background, Dr. Filner is a former academic from the University of San Diego whose PhD is in the history of science. After some intense questioning, Filner chastised Doran saying, “The vocabulary used and the tone you use to defend yourself makes your testimony suspect in my eyes and it is contradictory to everything that we have heard over the years about problems here [Kansas City VA]. So I will tell you if you had to have me vote on who I was going to believe here, I would vote for the employees on the first line and I would have to say, you, sir, are the weakest link.”

Doran responded by attacking Dr. Filner. Saying that Filner’s personal attack was “unprofessional and totally uncalled for” and only done to embarrass him. He further accused Filner of “grandstanding for the cameras”.

Roswell, who had been confirmed as the Under Secretary for Veterans Healthcare Affairs only a few months earlier, went next. Like Doran, he also attacked Klotz noting that, “Despite the author’s assertions of a relationship between the rodents and the flies, there was (and is) no conclusive evidence that such a relationship existed”.  Again like Doran, Roswell went on to blame the age of the facility but did acknowledge the “lack of effective supervision and leadership in the housekeeping department…Due to the lack of knowledgeable leadership and supervision, the infrastructure within the housekeeping department eroded”.

Representative Dr. Filner was again skeptical. He asked Roswell, “What is it about a system that requires a publication of a significant problem to direct the resources where they need to go?” Roswell responded, “I think what we are dealing with is a situation where there were competing priorities, limited resources, ineffectual communication between various levels of management, and less than ideal monitoring.” Filner asked Roswell to assure him that the VA would not be retaliate against Klotz and was assured that the VA would not.

With that, the hearing and the controversy surrounding the cleanliness at the Kansas City VA ended. The Kansas City VA did receive a multi-million dollar facelift, but no changes occurred affecting the management problems that according to Klotz led to the incident.  Central office management became more concerned about employees publically speaking even through scientific publications.  A mandate was issued that all scientific manuscripts needed to be submitted to the local Research and Development Committee for review prior to publication (6).  

In the aftermath of the controversy Patricia Crosetti was proven right-Klotz does not work for the VA anymore. After receiving poor reviews on his Merit Review grant which he held for nearly 20 years, he left the VA to become a full time university professor. He is currently Chief of Infectious Disease at the University of Arizona. Ken Kizer left the VA when it became apparent his appointment would not be renewed by Congress. Roswell resigned from the VA a couple of years after these events in a controversy about a failed computer system. Patricia Crossetti, the VA regional director, was subsequently dismissed. Kent Hill became the permanent director of the Kansas City VA where he is today. Dr. Filner remains on the Veterans Affairs Committee and Hugh Doran remains retired.

Although Klotz’s 5 root causes of the mice and maggots incident have yet to result in substantial change, we should remember Klotz for his courage in speaking up and identifying the managerial problems that led to the infestation of mice and maggots.

Richard A. Robbins, M.D.*

References

  1. http://www1.va.gov/vhapublications/ViewPublication.asp?pub_ID=979 (accessed 3/18/2012).
  2. www.va.gov/HEALTHPOLICYPLANNING/rxweb.pdf (accessed 3/18/2012).
  3. Beckendorf R, Klotz SA, Hinkle N, Bartholomew W. Nasal myiasis in an intensive care unit linked to hospital-wide mouse infestation. Arch Intern Med 2002;162:638-40.
  4. http://veterans.house.gov/107th-congress-hearing-archives (accessed 3/18/2012).
  5. www.va.gov/oig/CAP/01-01515-40.pdf (accessed 3/18/2012).
  6. http://www.research.va.gov/resources/policies/pub_notice.cfm (accessed 3/26/2012).

*Dr. Robbins is a former employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs and was the Associate Chief of Staff for Research at the Southern Arizona VA when these events occurred in 2002.

Reference as: Robbins RA. Profiles in medical courage: of mice, maggots and Steve Klotz. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:71-7. (Click here for a PDF version of the manuscript)