Patient Health and Safety Concerns – Phoenix, VA Medical Center

Alyshia Smith
Medical Center Director
Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital
650 E Indian School Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85012

08 July 2020

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury Ph.D.
10002 N 7th St
APT 1125
Phoenix, AX 85020

Subject: Healthcare policies that endanger patients.

Dear Ms. Smith,

I have been a patient of the Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital since 1998 when my family first moved to Phoenix.  I was a witness to the award-winning days, and have been a witness to the dead veterans, paper waiting lists, and incredible fall of the Phoenix VA Medical Center.  I want to help fix this VA Medical Center and moved back to Phoenix specifically for this purpose.  As an organizational psychologist, I have made a careful study of the VA, as a patient, as a previous employee, and as a concerned citizen.  I blog about VA issues because “I-Care” about the VA.

One of the first lessons taught me in new hire orientation training, concerned the Emergency Room and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA; 1986), a federal law that requires anyone coming to an emergency department to be stabilized and treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.  EMTALA was being abused in the hospital I worked at and I reported this issue.  EMTALA is being abused at the Phoenix, VA Medical Center.  Twice I have followed my primary care providers’ instructions to report to the VA ER for treatment, and twice I have been refused service.

30 June 2020, I was refused service at the VA ER because I cannot wear a mask due to breathing issues.  I was informed upon entering that I could hold the mask in front of my face and this is an acceptable workaround.  Upon entering the ER to be checked in, the office staff refused the information provided at the entrance, and said: “If the mask is not worn, we are refusing service.”  I have had shortness of breath, not lung-related, for many years now and cannot wear a mask.  This information is noted in my VA Medical records.  I have been through several rounds of breathing tests which confirm my lungs work great, but I remain short of breath, and when I wear any mask my problems breathing include lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, and eventually my vision grays and I pass out.  The original problem was diagnosed at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center (2010/2011).

08 July 2020, I walked into the VA through the South Entrance.  Not wearing a mask and those performing the COVID check did not offer a mask, offer a face shield, or say anything.  I walked to the ER, the admitting person did not mention my need for a mask, nor did they ask why I was not wearing a mask, I was checked in to be seen in the ER.  I was triaged and the triage nurse did not say anything about a mask.  I sat in the ER for 3-hours and none of the medical staff, hospital staff, employees, or Federal Officers walking past ever mentioned the need for a mask.  I walked to the Patriot Store feeling sick because of diabetes and needing food.  On my way, an employee whines about me not wearing a mask, and I ignore this person as my medical information is private and I should not have to explain to every nosy-nelly about why I am not wearing a mask.  I go to complete my purchases and suddenly the VA Police, who were called by the unknown VA Employee, are there insisting I need to wear a mask.  I explained, for the first of at least 40-times that I cannot physically wear a mask to protect my health and safety.

I realize the VA Police are executioners of policies that they have no say in forming and I refused to be anything less than professional as we walked back to the ER.  By the time I arrive back in the ER, my police escort has grown from 2 to 7 or 8, led by one plainclothes person claiming to be a Lieutenant and the other was a uniformed Lieutenant.  My intransigence at wearing a mask was not disorderly conduct, but a patient safety issue. I have a hard time breathing and when I must speak, this exacerbates my breathing condition.  I was accused of yelling, and before I could explain, I am being threatened with being arrested, cited, and thrown out of the VA ER.  By this time, I am in trouble physically and neurologically, between diabetes and my need for food, and the neurological condition I suffer through, my stress levels are making a bad situation worse.

A person identifying themselves as a doctor handed me a face shield and my wearing of the face shield did not stop the harassment from the VA Police over not wearing a mask.  During my conversations with Timothy Mikulski from the Patient Advocates Office after the last time, I was refused care illegally at the VA ER, I was told wearing a face shield is acceptable.  Thus, when I put the face shield on, I was expecting to be left alone.  Instead, I was demanded to either wear a mask or be arrested.  My third threat in less than 5-minutes for not wearing a mask, even though I now had the face shield properly worn for the same 5-minutes.

Eventually, I am arrested, I experience a seizure where I fell to the floor and injured my knee, then was hit repeatedly in the spine while being “patted down,” which continued to collapse my legs and increase my pain.  I was handcuffed to a bench in a holding cell where I bruised my right wrist because my seizures include my arms jerking and with one arm handcuffed to an immovable bench, I could not control my body and the handcuff was not allowing my involuntary movements increasing patient harm.  I have a bruise and scratches from the handcuff on my right wrist.

Here is the problem, the policy for wearing a mask does not have exclusions for those of us who cannot wear a mask.  Thus, wearing a mask creates more health problems, the potential for injury, and issues for the medical staff who are already overworked.  If a face shield is acceptable as a replacement for a mask, why was my wearing the face shield insufficient to closing the police issue?  If a face shield is not acceptable as a replacement for the mask, why is the patient advocates claiming this is acceptable?  If wearing a mask is so important, why was no one bothered by my not wearing a mask until the nosy employee called the Federal Police?

I sat in the bench seat beside the bookshelf in the ER.  Multiple officers, staff, and more walked past and no one was bothered, no one said anything, no one made any fuss over my not wearing a mask for three full hours while I was waiting in the ER.  Even when I interacted with the employee’s passing nobody made any comments.  This is a failure of policy, or it is the unfair harassment of a single person by overzealous police officers.

Let us talk about access to medical records.  The Federal Officers harassing me, sent one of their own to view my medical record for a statement from my PCP regarding my inability to wear a mask for health reasons.  I told the officers what they would find, “Records pertaining to my being diagnosed with shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.”  They claimed that since those records were from my time in Albuquerque, I was “blowing rainbows up their butts.”  Hence, even if my medical records had reported a message from my PCP, I would still have been in the wrong.

From my time as an employee, Medical Support Assistant, VA ER, Albuquerque, I know that the police do not have a reason to be surfing my medical records.  Yet, in the holding cell, I heard them discussing my medical records, my mental health diagnosis and cracking wise about details in my medical folder.  How did they get my medical records?  Why did they have possession of my medical records?  What is the purpose of the police having access to my personal medical files?

I freely admit, by the time the VA Police handcuffed me, my “cherub-like demeanor” had melted away.  When I am in extensive pain, I cannot think clearly, speak coherently, and my ability to suffer fools and liars is non-existent.  But this entire affair was brought about by a policy that does not make sense, a nosy employee who does not need to know my medical history and two overzealous lieutenants who need their ego’s clipped!

Another issue, why is my full SSN, DOB, and Full Name printed on the triage wrist bands?  Why are all VA ER patient’s data displayed in human-readable data on the wristbands?  This is a HIPPA and PII security issue that was supposed to have been corrected back in 2014.  Human readable data being bandied about places patients at greater risk for having their identity stolen.  This is especially true on an item regularly thrown away.  As someone who has followed the VA problems with protecting veterans, protecting data, and adhering to rules and regulations, I find this lapse highly questionable.

The following is requested:

  1. Remove the arrest and cancel the citations.
  2. Correct the policy.
  3. Train so the policy is properly applied, fairly communicated, and a standard is set. Removing individual adaptation and personal interpretation.
  4. Correct the PII on the wrist bands and other printed patient documents to protect the identity of the veterans. This is a simple fix of programming and your IT department should be able to complete this task easily.

Thank you for your prompt response in this regard.

Sincerely,

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury Ph.D./MBA

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Insane Abuse – The VA Edition: The Leaders of the VA Must Shift the Paradigm

I-CareDuring new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee.  Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee.  Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?”  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action.  The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back?  Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?

What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!

ProblemsOn the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw.  These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable!  Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.

Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity.  Why?

From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis.  While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?”  Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!

moral-valuesThe VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.”  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing.  However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training.  These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level.  Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay.  How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?

The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry.  This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance.  Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs?  If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.

Root Cause AnalysisThe VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri.  The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics.  Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system.  The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012.  Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.

Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.”  From the VA-OIG report we find:

“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”

Behavior-ChangeNo controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance.  The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling!  Where is the accountability?  Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers?  Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior?  Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.

The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans.  There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA.  These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned.  A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.

Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:

  1. Start a VA University.  If you want better people, you must build them!  Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
  2. Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
  3. Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures.  Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies.  Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.

There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry.  Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein.  Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA.  I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches.  However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.Military Crests

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Tiger Teams – A Potential Solution to VA Issues: An Open Letter to Secretary Wilkie

I-CareTo the Honorable Secretary Robert Wilkie
Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,

For almost a decade, I have read and studied the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from the position of patient, employee, concerned citizen, and now as an organizational psychologist.  During this time, I have read many Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigation reports, and yearned to be of fundamental assistance in improving the VA.  I have an idea with potential for your consideration, “Tiger Teams.”

In the US Navy, we used “Tiger Teams” as “flying squads” of people, dedicated to a specific task, and able to complete work quickly.  The teams included parts people, technicians, specialists, and carried the authority of competence and dedication to quickly fixing whatever had gone wrong during an evolution, an inspection, or even in regular operation.  It is my belief that if your office employed a “Tiger Team” approach for speedy response, your job in fixing core problems the VA is experiencing would be easier.  Please allow me to explain.

Tiger TeamThe VA-OIG recently released a report regarding deficiencies in nursing care and management in the Community Living Center (CLC) at the Coatesville VA Medical Center, Pennsylvania.  The inspection team validated some complaints and were unable to validate all complaints because of poor complainant documentation.  Having a Tiger Team able to dispatch from your office, carrying your authority, would provide expert guidance in rectifying the situation, monitoring the CLC, and updating you with knowledge needed to answer the legislator’s questions regarding what is happening.  The VA-OIG found other issues in their investigation that were not covered under the scope of the investigation, leaving the VA-OIG in a difficult position.  Hence, another reason for a Tiger Team being created, to back stop and support the VA-OIG in correcting issues found outside their investigatory scope.

Fishbone DiagramFor a decade now, I have been reading how the VA-OIG makes recommendations, but where is the follow-up from the VA-OIG to determine if those recommendations are being followed and applied?  Too often there is no return and report feature built into the VA-OIG investigation, as these investigators just do not have the time.  Again, this is what a Tiger Team can be doing.  Taking action, training leaders, building a better VA, monitoring and reporting, building holistic solutions, and being an extension of your office on the front lines.  Essentially using the tools from your office to improve the operations locally, which builds trust between the patients and the care providers, building trust between the families and the VA, and delivering upon the Congressional mandate and VA Mission.

Another recent VA-OIG report also supports the need for a fast response Tiger Team.  Coordination of care and employee satisfaction concerns at the Community Living Center (CLC), Loch Raven VA Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland.  In geographic terms, this incident is in your backyard.  While the VA-OIG inspection was rather inconclusive, and recommendations were made, it appears some things are working in this CLC and other things are not working as well as they should.  By using a Tiger Team as a flying squad, intermittent and unannounced inspections by the Tiger Team can aid in discovering more than the VA-OIG could investigate, monitoring the situation, and reporting on progress made in improving performance.

As an employee, too often the director of HAS would claim, “That problem is too hard to fix because it requires too many people to come together and agree on the solution.”  Or, “The solution is feasible, but not worth the effort to implement because it would require coordination.”  Getting the doctors and nurses talking to and working with administration is a leadership role, providing support to leaders is one of the best tools a Tiger Team possesses one authority is delegated.  The Tiger Team presents the data, presents different potential solutions, and the aids the leadership locally in implementation.  As an employee I never found a problem in the VA that could not be resolved with a little attention, getting people to work together, and opening lines of communication.  Thus, I know the VA can be fixed.

Root Cause AnalysisThe Tiger Teams need to be led by an organizational psychologist possessing a Ph.D. and a personal stake in seeing the VA improve.  The organizational psychologist can build a team of like-minded people to be on the flying squad, and these team members should be subject matter experts in VA policies, procedures, and methods of operation, and should change from time to time.  I have met many people from the VA who not only possess the passion, but are endowed with the knowledge of how to help the VA, and I would see the VA succeed.  Yet, I am concerned that the VA is not changing, not growing, and not developing the processes and procedures needed to survive, and this is damaging the VA, which leads to wasted money and dead veterans.

Why not have a flying squad for each VISN, who can meet to benchmark, compare notes, and best practices.  Who work from home and visit the local offices in the VISN, reporting directly to your office with a copy to the VISN leadership.  Whose job is to build the Tiger teams needed to oversee, provide expert support, and practical analysis.  The idea is to help you gather real time data, improve implementation of VA-OIG recommendations, and meet the demands of Congress.  If a Tiger Team, with the functioning Flying Squad, can save one VA-OIG inspection in each VISN, by improving that VISN, medical center, CLC, etc. before it becomes a major problem on the sSix O’clock News, then the Tiger Teams have paid for themselves.

All veterans know of the Phoenix VA Medical Center debacle, where veterans died while waiting for appointments.  I fully believe that had the VA Secretary had a Tiger Team in place, the root causes of that incident would have triggered the necessary flags to save lives and avoid or mitigate the catastrophe.  Flying squads are the Tiger Team in action, and action should be the keyword for every member of the team.  The mission of the Tiger Team should be to find and fix root causes, repair trust, and implement change needed to improve VA operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemeteries.

The VBA is especially vulnerable, and in need of outside resources to support change.  Recently the VBA was involved in another scandal involving improper processing of claims for veterans in hospital over 21-days, resulting in millions of dollars either overpaid or underpaid to the veterans.  Training, managerial oversight, and proper performance of tasks was reportedly the excuse the VBA used, again, to shirk responsibility.  Tiger Teams can provide the support needed to monitor for, and encourage the adoption of, rectifying measures and VA-OIG recommendations, not just at the VBA, but across the full VA spectrum of operations.

Please, consider implementing Tiger Teams, from your office, assigned to a specific VISN, possessing the authority delegated to run the needed analysis, build support in local offices, and iron out the inefficiencies that keep killing veterans, wasting money, and creating problems.  I firmly believe the VA can be saved and improved, built to become more flexible, while at the same time delivering on the promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

I-CareThank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Dave Salisbury
Veteran/Organizational Psychologist

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Symptoms Not Cause – Shifting the Paradigm at the Department of Veterans Affairs

I-CareFor Memorial Day (2020), the National Cemetery, through the directive of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), restricted the placing of flags at several national cemeteries, upsetting the plans of Boy Scouts, and angering countless veterans, survivors, dependents, and extended families.  However, the intransigence of the VA on this matter is but a symptom of a larger problem.

ProblemsThe Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) recently released two additional reports on behavior unbecoming at the VA.  The first report concerns the delays in diagnosis and treatment in dialysis patients, as well as patient transport at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in North Carolina.  The second is another death of a patient, as well as deficiencies in domiciliary safety and security at the Northeast Ohio Healthcare System in Cleveland.

The VA report from North Carolina includes significant patient issues, especially since two veterans died while in the care of the VA.  Significant issues are generally code words for incredibly lax processes, and procedures that are easily avoided, provided people care enough to do their jobs correctly, succinctly, and thoroughly.  Where patients are concerned a dead patient is pretty significant.  Two dead patients are beyond the comprehension of a reasonable person to not ask, “Who lost their jobs over these incidents?”

Patient A, has leukemia, and from the VA-OIG’s report we find the following responsible parties:

“… A primary care provider failed to act on Patient A’s abnormal laboratory results and pathologists’ recommendations for follow-up testing and hematology consultation. Community Care staff did not process a consult and schedule Patient A’s appointment.

Patient A died from a gastrointestinal bleed while waiting for transport to a hospital from a (VA Contracted) [long-term] care facility.  Patient A’s delays in care led to death in hospital, and the failure of a hospitalist to initiate emergency procedures contributed to the veteran’s passing.  Patient A’s death is a tragical farce of bureaucratic inaction, compounded by the same symptoms as that allowed for Memorial Day (2020) to come and go without the honored dead of America being remembered.  Symptoms not cause.

Patient B, was also in a (VA Contracted) [long-term] care facility, in need of transport back to the hospital, and the administrative staff’s delays had Patient B arrive at the hospital in cardiac failure, where the patient subsequently died.  In the case of both patient’s facility leaders did not initiate comprehensive analyses of events surrounding the patients’ deaths or related processes. But, this is excusable behavior at the VA due to frequent executive leadership changes impeding the resolution of systemic issues.  I have been covering the VA-OIG reports for the better part of a decade and this excuse is always an acceptable excuse for bureaucratic inaction.  Hence, the first question in this madness is to the VA-OIG and it needs to answer, “Why is this an allowable excuse?”  Don’t the people remaining know their positions sufficiently to carry on when the executive team is in flux?  Again, symptoms not cause.

The patient death in Northeast Ohio, started with the domiciliary, on a VA Contract care facility.  Essentially, the patient died because of methadone being provided without first gaining an electrocardiogram.  Oversight of the contracted domiciliary did not include accuracy checks on paperwork, but the VA-OIG found that for the most part, the contracted domiciliary was following VA Contracting guidelines.  From the report, no gross negligence led to the veterans passing, and for the most part risk analysis and other post mortem analysis were conducted properly.  Why is this case mentioned; symptoms not cause.

When I worked at the New Mexico VA Medical Center (NMVAMC) I diagnosed a problem and was told, repeatedly, to not mention the problem as the director would be furious.  The problem is bureaucratic inertia.  Bureaucratic inertia is commonly defined as, “the supposed inevitable tendency of bureaucratic organizations to perpetuate the established procedures and modes, even if they are counterproductive and/or diametrically opposed to established organizational goals.”  Except, the bureaucratic inertia I witnessed daily was not “supposedly inevitable,” it was a real and cogent variable in every single action from most of the employees.

I spent 12 months without proper access to systems, but the process to gain access was convoluted, unknown, ever-changing, and so twisted that unraveling the proper methods to complete the process and gain access was never corrected, and this was a major issue for patient care in an Emergency Department.  Why was the process so bad; bureaucratic inertia.  Obtaining information about the problem took two different assistant directors, two different directors, a senior leader, and the problem was identified that licensing requirements were the sticking point in the problem.

InertiaBureaucratic inertia is the cause of too many issues, problems, and dead veterans, at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The symptoms include delays in administrative tasks that lead to patients dying for lack of transport to a hospital.  The symptoms include cost overrun on every construction project the VA commences.  The symptoms include abuse of employees, creating a revolving door in human resources where good people come in with enthusiasm, and leave with anger and contempt, generally at the insistence of a leader who refuses to change.  The symptoms include a bureaucrat making a decision that has no logical sense, costs too much and is never held accountable for the harm because the decision-maker can prove they met the byzantine labyrinth of rules, regulations, and policies of the VA.

Veterans are dying at the VA regularly because of bureaucratic inertia.  Hence, as bureaucratic inertia is the problem, and the symptoms are prevalent, it must needs be that a solution is found to eradicate bureaucratic inertia.  While not a full solution, the following will help curb most of the problem, and begin the process for the eradication of bureaucratic inertia.

  1. Give the VA-OIG power to enact change when cause and effect analysis shows a person is “the” problem in that chain of events. Right now, the office of inspector general has the power to make recommendations, that are generally, sometimes, potentially, considered, and possible remediations adopted, provided a different course of action is discovered.
  2. Give the executive committee, of which the head is Secretary Wilkie, legislative power to fire and hold people accountable for not doing the jobs they were hired, and vetted at $110,000+ per employee, to perform. Background checks on new employees cost the taxpayer $110,000+, and the revolving door in human resources is unacceptable.  But worse is when the leaders refuse to perform their jobs and remain employed.
  3. Implement ISO as a quality control system where processes, procedures, and policies are written down. The ability for management to change the rules on a whim costs money, time, patient confidence, trust in leadership and organization, and is a nuisance that permeates the VA absolutely.  The lack of written policies and procedures is the second most common excuse for bureaucratic inertia.  The first being, the ability to blame changing leadership for dead patients!
  4. Eliminate labor union protection. Government employees have negotiated plentiful benefits, conditions, and pay without union representation and the ability for the union to get criminal complaints dropped, and worthless people their jobs back is an ultimate disgrace upon the Magna Charta of the United States of America generally, and upon the seal of the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically.

Leadership CartoonSecretary Wilkie, until you can overcome the bureaucratic inertia prevalent in the ranks of the leadership between the front-line veteran facing employee and your office, lasting change remains improbable.  Real people are dying from bureaucratic inertia.  Real veterans are spending their entire lives in the appeal process for benefits and dying without proper treatment.  Real families are being torn asunder from the stress of untreated veterans because the bureaucratic inertia cannot be overcome from the outside.  I know you need legislative assistance to enact real change and improve the VA.  By way of petition, I write this missive to the American citizen asking for your help in providing Sec. Wilkie the tools he needs to fix the VA.

The VA can be fixed, but the solution will require fundamental change.

Change is possible with proper legislative support!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

As the Department of Veterans Affairs Goes, So Does America – A Warning!

I-CareWould the honorable elected representatives please answer the following question: “Are the veterans of America’s armed services the next ‘Tuskegee Syphilis Study?’”

While we await this answer, here is why the question is raised.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) just posted their investigation results of the Critical Care Unit Staffing and Quality of Care Deficiencies at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, and the results remind me of the game musical chairs and the disaster caused by the Tuskegee Syphilis StudyTuskegee Syphilis StudyMusical chairs because the VA-OIG was unable to ascertain direct harm because of record screw-ups, gross mismanagement, and a detestable and despicable perception of the patient.  The Tuskegee Syphilis Study because real harm to real people was caused, and the leadership did not care enough to fix the problems without an official investigation.

More on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study – History can be viewed in the link.

The VA-OIG report begins with the following:

“Critical Care Unit Staffing and Quality of Care Deficiencies at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Augusta, Georgia discusses significant patient safety issues including events related to noncompliance with pressure injury policy, intensive care unit cardiac monitoring, and sitter availability for high-risk patients.”

Pressure Injuries
Bedsores/Pressure Injury Progression

But concludes with the following:

“Publication is warranted so that other facility leaders and healthcare practitioners can be made aware of OIG-identified problems applicable to their own facility.”

Leading me to ask, of the VA-OIG, is this warning to proactively fix, or retroactively hide the nefariousness of poor management and dead patients?

Pressure injuries are exceedingly painful, can become deadly very quickly, and leave scarring and pain.  Pressure injuries are the nice term for bed sores, which are caused by critically ill patients who are already unable to move and circulate blood properly to the skin.  Thus, the tissue dies, a sore develops, then the skin breaks, and by this time that patient who is already in trouble, is now in danger of death.

Pressure Injuries - Example
Bedsore

Bedsores, pressure injuries, are serious conditions; yet, the Charlie Norwood VAMC has record-keeping problems, staffing issues, and without outside impetus refrained from fixing the problems.  All reminiscent of the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study.”

Hence the articles originating question, “Are the US Military Veterans the next ‘Tuskegee Syphilis Study?’”

If so, I refuse, and those leaders who think this conduct is allowable need to be held personally responsible for the harm they are causing.  If the answer is no, why are so many VA-OIG reports of leadership and management’s nefarious deeds being allowed until the VA-OIG comes knocking?  Even after the VA-OIG investigates, is anything being done?  Are people being held accountable?  The leadership issues are repeated, and while those repeats might not be an exact match from VAMC to VAMC, the leadership problems are real, glaring, and real people are dying!

America was shocked and angry when the whistle and plug were finally pulled on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and rightfully so.

Tuskegee-Patient
Syphilis wounds

Yet, it appears that the VA learned nothing from the history of Tuskegee except to keep playing musical chairs on responsibility, paperwork, and hiding the evidence from accountability.

America, your medical system, which before President Obama was the best in the world, is now on the same train of failure the VA Medical System is on.  Are you paying attention to the harm caused to veterans?  Do you want the same?  I do not!

America, to correct the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and to reduce the costs to the taxpayers, as well as beginning to correct the damage done to your health care, the following is needed immediately.

  1. Legislation needs to be written and passed repealing ObamaCare.  Every single mandate, every single costly item, and sunder forever this socialism experiment.  The answers to the rising costs of medical care, including dental and vision, are not to be found in increasing the size of an already bloated government.
  2. Legislation needs urgent action to provide Secretary Wilkie the powers of any other CEO to clean the Department of Veterans Affairs. The leadership between the veteran facing employee and the Secretary’s office needs to be culled, and the only way to do this is through legislation.
  3. Demand accountability. The VA-OIG reports these issues constantly, the findings need to be on the news and be topics of conversation.  No longer should a bureaucrat be able to shift responsibility, harm patients, and keep their comfortable jobs and benefits.  Real harm to real people is being caused by the medical system paid for by your tax dollars, demand more!

Understand the following principle, know it well, and let us begin processing the reversal of this trend.  Charles Reich (1964) wrote a Yale Law Journal article describing “New Property.”  The new property Reich discusses is you and me, and how we are used by bureaucrats like property to be abused, harmed, and mistreated, all through the largess of the government we pay for.  Like a wheelbarrow or a hammer, we are the fodder upon which the bureaucrat steals money from one person to pay another person through government benefits, all to the enrichment and personal satisfaction of the bureaucrat.

Government Largess 2The actions of the nameless and faceless bureaucrat are unconstitutional, but allowed in the name of “government action.”  Every time you hear the government is acting on your behalf, it means that the power of the people has been stolen, and will be doled back to the taxpayer in infinitesimal amounts, while the bureaucrat keeps getting fatter.  Think Reich (1964) is wrong, here are some examples.

  • The government went to war against poverty, the poor have become poorer, poverty’s blight has spread, but the government offices “fighting” poverty are fat with people and taxpayer dollars.
  • The government went to war against drugs, the only winner so far has been the government.  The drug infestation has only gotten worse, and now states have begun selling harmful and illicit drugs for the tax money.
  • The government got into student loans, to “make the lending field fairer.” Students were harmed, colleges and universities tripled, or more, their tuitions, and students are saddled with increasing levels of debt.  But, the government officers in charge are living high on the debt and interest.
  • The government allowed labor unions to represent government workers, now the taxpayer is abused, treated like scum, taxes went up, but responsibility and accountability under the “Rule of law,” that all citizens are expected to live by, have all but disappeared for government workers.  Ever tried getting adjudication or remediation from a government worker?Government Largess 4
  • The government and some private citizens decided black health needed improvement. Planned Parenthood and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study are but two of the disasters that hit the black communities and have destroyed their community’s legacy, honor, and power, all for government largess, and the lining of private pockets.

Choose to stop being the property of the government; the US Constitution declares the government works for us, and we control them, not the other way around!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

 

Relieve the Suffering – I-CARE: Shifting the VA Paradigms

I-CareDuring my tenure as a medical support assistant (MSA) in the emergency room of the Albuquerque, NM VA Hospital, I took a class being offered on the new direction the VA customer service was going to embody called I-CARE.  I-CARE became my objective, as a customer service professional. As a dual-service/service-connected disabled veteran, I saw the abuses prevalent in the VA Hospital and wanted to change myself and provide mentoring to my co-workers in adapting I-CARE principles into their daily efforts.  Unfortunately, because of labor union interference, leadership failures, and supervisor efforts to counter I-CARE implementation, my efforts were discounted, denigrated, and derided until I was discharged from VA employment.  But, I-CARE remains a part of my commitment, my professional outlook, and personal commitment to customer service was forever changed by implementing the principles of I-CARE.

Leadership CartoonI write harshly about the crimes of the VA because I-CARE and deeply desire to see the VA bureaucracy changed, to witness the adoption of I-CARE into the daily efforts of every VA employee, and to see the VA leadership teams develop policies and procedures that will benefit the veterans, and relieve the suffering of veterans, their spouses and children, and live the VA mission of bearing up those who have born the pains of battle.

ProblemsI have seen veterans blithely refused prompt care because of the frequency that veteran had been seen, the lifestyle choices of that veteran, or simply because a charge nurse or doctor did not like the politics of the veteran as displayed by their clothing.  I have seen illegal actions taken to turn people away from care at a VA Hospital Emergency room by VA Police officers, charge nurses, and other nursing staff, and been powerless to stop these crimes because the hospital leadership refused to act, and became hostile to the employee’s reporting the problems.  I have witnessed leaders delete emails reporting problems as those emails were proof and evidence of crimes cannot be allowed to remain at the VA.  I-CARE about these issues; I report these problems, but because I-CARE I also provide solutions, easy fixes that could be applied and adapted for the relief of suffering and reduction of risk to the hospital.  My reports all were ignored while an employee, from the team leader to the director of Hospital Administration Services (HAS), to the hospital director’s suite, all sorts of deaf ears and crickets were in attendance.  I reported issues to the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) which is a geographic group of VA Medical Centers under common leadership; also, to no avail, crickets, and deaf ears.

I-CareYet, I-CARE; still, I-CARE drives me and motivates me to see change occur at the VA.  To right the wrongs, and rebuild the VA.  One of my early leaders at the NM VA Hospital said something very prescient, “If a civilian hospital did half-the things the VA Hospitals get away with, they (the civilian hospital) would have been shut down and the leaders imprisoned.”  Having witnessed a year of crimes personally, seeing the inability for change to occur due to leadership, watching talent wasted, and monitoring the revolving door of employees in the VA, I concur with that statement.  The leader who spoke had 25-years of civilian hospital administration experience, before coming to the VA, and the VA would only hire this well-educated, highly experienced person as a GS-7, an entry-level employee.

Image - Eagle & FlagIn the coming days and months, I will continue to write about the VA.  Using personal experience, patient experiences related to or personally witnessed, and the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General investigation reports, as the reasons for the solutions I propose.  I-CARE, enough to stand as a witness that the VA in its current form cannot, and should not, be allowed to thrive any longer.  Change must come to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA; hospitals and clinics), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA; compensation and pension claims), and the National Cemeteries.  Thus, I witness my commitment to I-CARE and the VA.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Department of Veterans Affairs – Xray Follies – Shifting the Paradigms

I-CareDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been trying to give the benefit of the doubt to the VA; I was wrong to extend this kindness.  The Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs-Office of the Inspector General (VA-OIG) due to reports of leadership failure and manipulation of radiology reports.  The VA-OIG found gross errors in treatment delays, misleading reporting in records, and the leadership both knew and were tolerating this behavior.  From the report, we find that the VA-OIG, “… found evidence of manipulation and vulnerability of the electronic health record and mismanagement of the Medical Imaging Service. Facility leaders failed to successfully manage or address the impact of interpersonal conflicts within the Medical Imaging Service that included intimidation of staff radiologists.

Sadly, I am not surprised at the findings in this investigation; for a considerable time now, the VA has suffered from leadership irregularities, poor leadership, mismanagement, and over management in the majority of the local hospitals.  This situation remains highly frustrating to the veterans cursed with needing the VA’s services, and this madness must cease!  If it were not for another VA-OIG report declaring follies and leadership failure specifically in the radiological department, the dire situation would not have been so egregious.

The VA-OIG began their report of the VA Illiana Health Care System in Danville, Illinois, stating the following:

This report is compelling because it discusses significant patient safety issues including a radiologist’s error rate, the facility’s radiology quality assurance program, and a recommendation to the Under Secretary for Health regarding adopting national radiology guidelines.”

The VA-OIG inspection began due to radiological concerns and a high error rate.  The VA-OIG discovered such a poor error rate, a second investigation was required to expand upon the issues found in the first investigation.  A radiologist had an incredibly high error rate, and the facility leaders did nothing.  Does this not initiate a leadership cleaning of the house to remove the rot and begin to build community trust; if not, why?

To be clear, both the local hospital leaders and the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) leaders are at fault for poor leadership decisions.  From the VA-OIG report, we find, “Veterans Integrated Service Network and facility leaders failed to conduct a thorough and impartial review related to the OIG request to evaluate the original allegations.”  Leading to another question, actually repeated now for multiple years, why are the local leaders, who created the problems, “conducting a review” during the VA-OIG investigation?  Isn’t this akin to placing a bank robber in charge of the criminal investigation into the bank robbery?

X-RayThe primary care doctor, emergency room doctors, and more all depend upon the radiologist report as the VA doctors no longer read x-rays, MRI’s, CT Scans, due to the complexity of the imaging.  Thus, any error in the radiological report causes significant patient care delays, harm, or death.  Yet, at two geographically separate VISN’s and Hospitals, the VA-OIG is reporting poor QA and high error rates in radiological reporting.  Compounded by leadership failure at both the local hospital and the VISN level.  The VA-OIG reports do not relate that anyone was fired, forced to change jobs, or other remedial actions taken beyond making “suggestions” for improvement at the federal, VISN, and local hospital levels.  What significantly increases the problem, these same radiological records form the backbone of the compensation and pension decisions.  Downstream issues were not in the scope of either radiological investigation. Still, every error in the VA bureaucracy has a significant downstream impact that always seems to be forgotten or overlooked.

Secretary Wilkie, lacking a downstream review from the VA-OIG investigations, places patients at significant risk and incredible harm.  Consider the following; the VA-OIG reported last year (2019) that radiological reports on spinal problems were not adjudicated correctly in compensation and pension claims from 2002-2006 roughly.  No downstream review occurred, and thousands of veterans’ claims are locked in the appeals process for decisions that should have triggered an automatic analysis and new radiological reports ordered immediately upon the conclusion of the VA-OIG’s investigation.  Where is the culpability and responsibility to the veterans harmed and suffering all because the VA did not do their collective job?

Problems

Now, at least two VA facilities are hindered by radiological errors and poor leadership at the hospital and VISN level.  Thus, the veterans need to know, can any radiological reporting be trusted with this blemish on the VA record?  Quality assurance (QA) is the backbone of the radiological imaging and reporting processes to assure the patient that proper diagnosing is happening.  Yet, QA is the problem in two different VA-OIG investigations of the radiological departments, and how many other VA Medical Centers have the same problem but have not been caught?  Where is the accountability for preventing these issues in other VA Medical Centers?

Here are five suggestions for rebuilding the reputation in the community, and in the VA Health Care System (VHA):

  1. Downstream investigations are critical and need initiation upon discovery by the VA-OIG of wrongdoing. Downstream investigating includes compensation and pension decisions, patient medical record discovery, and fixing the problems in the healthcare record.  Build an internal team of various professionals who can investigate and initiate these reviews.  Doing so will build trust, save millions of dollars in wrongly adjudicated compensation and pension claims, and saves lives in the VHA.
  2. Since the leadership failures are so common, so prevalent, and creating such an incredible talent drain, all while risking patient health, it is time for the VA to begin growing leaders through a VA University program. Do not allow leadership currently working for the VA to apply without good reasons; allow open applications where students can learn, can graduate with a degree, and can work in VA leadership roles as they gain a formal education.
  3. Begin weeding the leadership for the most disingenuous, detestable, and despicable leaders, replacing them with people who have never worked for the VA but are capable and willing from other industries. The VA needs new ideas, new leaders, and new methods if they are to fix the current problems.
  4. Put teeth into the VA-OIG investigations. These problems as so egregious and widespread that the VA-OIG needs tools to demand compliance and insist upon remediation.  In three VA Medical Centers in Albuquerque, NM., Salt Lake City, UT., and a VA Clinic in Ashtabula, OH., I have heard the following, or something similar, from employees regarding VA-OIG investigations, “Don’t worry.”  Never again should any VA Employee not worry about being investigated by the VA-OIG.
  5. ISO9001Start using an ISO 9001 for healthcare as a QA program where processes and procedures are written down and followed. QA should be a program that fits holistically and improves people.  Quality assurance should be a constant learning evaluation that never ends.  Yet, somehow the VA, including the VBA, the VHA, and the National Cemeteries, always seem to not have a quality program.  Implement the ISO 9001 one VA Medical Center at a time until a whole VISN is working under the ISO program.  This allows the VA to learn and use these learning moments to build anew that which has fallen into disrepute.

Leadership CartoonSecretary Wilkie, some will suggest these ideas are expensive, but how expensive has the revolving door in human resources been for talent drain?  How costly has failed training programs been?  How expensive is the appeals process to compensation and pension decisions both in green and blue money?  The short answer, too bloody expensive.  Thus, it is time to begin looking for innovative ideas, using new ideas, employing new talent, and demanding higher returns for the taxpayer investment in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

©Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

All rights reserved.

The author has used images in the Public Domain and holds no copyright or intellectual property rights to the images used.

Please contact the author through LinkedIn for permission to reuse or reprint:

www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury

The Department of Veterans Affairs: The Liars and Thieves Edition

I-CareIn December 2019, I witnessed an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Hospital Administration, create rules to inconvenience a veteran, lie to a veteran, obfuscate, and generally mock a veteran.  The incident included the employee threatening the veteran with throwing away documentation, the primary care provider needed because the veteran was not mailing the forms to the doctor as the employee demanded of the veteran.  The veteran must travel and thought dropping off the forms would be acceptable; until he met this employee.  23 January 2020, I was the veteran being lied to, and my “cherub-like demeanor” evaporated faster than dew in a July sun.  For the December incident, I signed my name to a letter going to the Hospital Director Andrew M. Welch, written by the abused veteran, and testified that I witnessed the treatment this veteran received.  To the best of my knowledge, no action was taken by the hospital leadership where this employee is concerned, I asked.  A copy of this article will be sent to hospital leadership.  If any additional information comes available on this issue, I will write an addendum and update this article.

23 January 2020, 1505-1510, I went to my primary care provider’s clinic at the Albuquerque, New Mexico VA Hospital.  I had another appointment, was early, and went to ask why I am receiving letters claiming the primary care clinic is “having difficulty” contacting me.  The employee is titled “Advanced MSA,” which means they are a Medical Support Assistant who has been promoted.  For my other appointment, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three appointment emails.  For my next appointment, 24 January 2020, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  For my appointment in December 2019, I received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  I regularly receive calls from other clinics in the VA Hospital.  My cellphone has voicemail, and the voicemail is regularly checked and responses made.  Yet, the MSA claims, “I have tried calling you, and you do not have voicemail.”  I checked my recent calls, and showed the MSA where I had not received any calls from the VA on the days indicated, and asked why I can receive all these other calls from the VA, including the text messages, but only his calls are not showing up.  The MSA then became intransigent, resolute, and adamant, raised his voice, and told me our conversation was done.  After observing the ways and means of this VA employee over the course of many months previously, I wonder, “how many other veterans are not being contacted in a timely manner, while this person lies, cheats, and steals?”

Quality of FindingsUnfortunately, this is the standard, not the exception for the MSA’s in the HAS (Hospital Administration Services) Department, led by Maritza Pittore, at the Albuquerque VA Hospital.  I have witnessed multiple MSA’s committing HIPAA violations through record diving, gossiping about veteran patients, acting rudely, ignoring veteran patients and their families to complete conversations, and refusing to do their jobs.  As a point of fact, one assistant director one told me, “if what the VA does was replicated by a non-government hospital, they would be closed down and sued.”  While employed from June 2018 thru June 2019, I brought this to the attention of the leadership, including multiple emails and voice conversations with Maritza Pittore, Sonja Brown, and several other high-ranking leaders and their assistants, all to no avail.  I have had nursing staff tell me confidentially that they cannot do anything where the MSA’s are concerned because “it’s none of their business and outside their job duties.”  Yet, the VA continues to proclaim the MSA, the Nurse, and the doctor, along with the patient, are a “healthcare team.”  Upon being discharged, without cause, reason, or justification, I brought this information to the OIG, my congressional and senate representatives, among many others, all to no avail.  The level of customer service, especially at this VA Hospital, is far below the pale because the leadership refuses to engage and set standards for customer service, with enforced penalties. I-CareMore to the point, the employees mimic the customer service they receive from the leadership team.  Thus, even though the Federal VA Office has launched “I-Care” as a customer service improvement initiative, the customer service in this hospital continues to fall and will continue to fail until the leadership exemplifies the standards of customer service expected.

As a dedicated customer service professional, I have offered multiple solutions to the continuing problems veteran patients experience in the Albuquerque VA Hospital at the hands of the MSA’s and other front-line customer-facing staff; but the suggestions all continue to fall upon deaf ears.  I do not paint all the MSA’s and staff as liars, thieves, and cheaters, because there are some great people working at this VA Hospital.  Unfortunately, the rotten apples far exceed the good workers by multiple factors and powers, to the shame of the leadership team who continues to ignore the problem, deleting emails, and generally lying when placed on the spot about the problems.

An example of this occurred recently where a member of the staff of a congressional representative asked about communications sent from an employee to the Director of VISN 18, with carbon copies being sent to Maritza Pittore HAS Director, Ruben Foster MSA Supervisor, and Sonja Brown Associate Director of the Hospital.  None of those emails “magically” exist when asked for, and the verbal conversation included outright lies, misdirection, and complete fallacies.

Since the VA-Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) continues to appear disinterested, I can only ask, “what does a person do to see action taken to correct the problems, right the abuses, and bring responsibility and accountability to the employees of the Federal Government?”  President Trump is providing great leadership, VA Secretary Wilkie is doing a good job and needs more help, but the elected officials in the House and Senate refuse to do their job, and the middle management of the VA is entrenched, obtuse, and inflexible.  The US Media treats veterans’ issues as a punchline to a bad joke.  Still, the problem worsens; still, the abusers maliciously treat people abhorrently; and still, those placed in leadership positions stall, obfuscate, and hinder.

My treatment at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque includes being physically assaulted by an employee, my medical records perused by, and then gossiped across at least four separate clinics, and still that MSA remains employed.  In fact, this employee was promoted for her “good work and dedication to helping veterans.”  I am sick and tired of the poor treatment, the harassment, and the vindictiveness served to veterans of all types, sizes, and colors, at the hands of petty bureaucrats as they visit the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The Albuquerque VA Hospital is one of the most egregious examples of bad behavior and nepotism in the country and it is past time the leadership was replaced and the assaults and crimes brought into the sunshine for some “sunshine disinfectant.”

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgUpdate to this article, 10 May 2020: By the first week in April 2020, the Advanced MSA in the clinic was moved to a less customer-facing post and a new MSA hired.  The quality of that individual was never experienced due to relocating.  The supervisor of the MSA was not very interested in correcting the problems and that showed when I visited with them while trying to obtain an appointment that the Advanced MSA refused to schedule.  Change must come to the VA!

© 2020 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Desperate Changes Need at the VA – A Letter to the President

President of the United States
Attn: The Honorable Donald Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

10 May 2020

Dave Salisbury
1947 Edith Blvd SE
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Subject: The Department of Veterans Affairs

Dear Mr. President,

Please forgive my presumptuousness in writing to you directly.  I have made several attempts at raising the issues contained herein at lower levels, to no avail.  As the Chief Executive Officer of the United States of America, I come to you as the person of last resort.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), especially Healthcare and Benefits departments are sick, and in desperate need of urgent corrective action.

  1. The VA-OIG has documented multiple times when claims have been improperly been decided, where training was lacking, leadership failed, and the veteran suffered.  Yet, never in the VA-OIG report is a discussion on correcting the past decisions.  The process for a veteran to have a previous decision, more often than not improperly decided by the VA, is to produce new material evidence, and wait interminably for the VA to decide they need to act.  This single issue is a leadership failure of enormous proportions, that Congress refuses to act upon; thus, the leadership failure begins and ends with the House of Representatives and the Senate refusing to do the jobs they were elected to complete.
  2. While the following is specific to the New Mexico VA Healthcare System (NMVAHCS), the problem is rampant throughout the entire VA healthcare system. I witnessed, 11 December 2019, a VA employee tell a veteran that they would not submit paperwork for the veteran, to the doctor, in the clinic unless the paperwork was “processed correctly.”  Meaning that the veteran took an envelope, placed the VA forms inside the envelope, and then mailed that paperwork to the VA Hospital.  The veteran lives a significant distance to the hospital and was trying to do in person what had failed through the USPS, this was made clear to the VA Employee.  The employee went as far as to claim, “If that form is placed on my desk, I will throw it away because it is not being presented to the doctor in a manner acceptable to the employee.”  Never have I witnessed such blatantly disrespectful behavior by a bureaucrat.  In true bureaucrat fashion, he created rules to thwart, obfuscate, and dodge work; unfortunately, this is standard practice with the majority of employees in customer-facing positions in the VA.  The leadership failure, the protected status of termed (beyond first-year) employees at the VA, and the dearth of customer service skills are all aspects to the core problem the VA is terminally suffering from, bureaucratism.
  3. From June 2018 to June 2019 (5-days short of completing my first year) I was an employee of the NMVAHCS, working in the Emergency Room as a Medical Support Assistant (MSA). I was discharged through lies, deceit, and under the auspices of Quid Pro Quo, where my termination was required for two others to be promoted.  While employed, I regularly reported to the leadership team my supervisor, the HAS director, the hospital director, the VISN 21 director, and the VA-OIG problems like HIPAA violations, a physical attack by a senior MSA on my person, fraud, waste, and abuse, as well as potential solutions to improve the ER operations.  All to silence and platitudes from the leadership team.  Did you know there is a loophole in the whistleblower protections if you are under term employment, (1, 2, or 3 years term) you have no whistle-blower protections, and if your job is lost, you have no whistle-blower protections?  The abusers have worked out many angles to protect the dregs of society while allowing malfeasance and misfeasance to proliferate in government employment.  Please allow me to elaborate upon the specific issues witnessed:
  • A 14-year old is being treated in the ER. A 16-year old is turned away.  The difference, the triage nurse who decided who gets seen and who gets bumped because the NMVAHCS cannot treat children.  When asked what age is considered a “child” under the hospital policy, no answer in 12-months of regularly asking.  I saw several times when this repeated, the most egregious was a new military spouse, 17 years old, denied treatment at the ER that services the Air Force Base next door due to being “too young” per the triage nurse.  By the way, under Federal Law, this is illegal for an ER to do; yet, this was regular practice while employed.
  • A health technician supporting ER patient care comes out of the ER and begins to harangue a patient currently being seen, expressing comments that made clear the health technician knew intimate details of that patients’ chart, past care received at the NMVAHCS and other VA Hospitals across the southwester US, and treatment received. Under HIPAA this behavior is illegal, as well as being immoral, unethical, and plain wrong.  Yet, HIPAA is regularly broken by MSA’s, Health Technicians, and other care providers in this VA Hospital.  Every time these HIPAA violations were brought to the attention of the HAS Director, excuses, platitudes, and professional brush-off occurred, including the deletion of emails reporting these problems.  On more than one occasion, the HIPAA violator was promoted to “treat” the problem.  When these issues were brought to the attention of the VISN 21 Director, the problem was pushed back onto the assistant hospital director in NM for further consideration.  When complained of to Congressional Representatives, lame excuses were generated by the Assistant Hospital Director and the HAS Director and accepted by the Congressional Representatives staff.  HIPAA Abuse continues unabated!
  • Homeless veterans regularly received substandard treatment when compared to other veterans. I saw nurses bad-mouth, scream, and yell at homeless patients.  I saw a homeless patient with a broken leg, get delayed treatment for more than four hours because the duty nurse was tired of treating this particular patient and didn’t believe the veteran had broken his leg after a fall.  I saw nurses put patients into treatment rooms and left for anywhere between 45-120 minutes because the shift was changing and the nursing staff did not want to treat another patient before their shifts ended.  The nurses stood outside the patient’s door, joking, carrying on, and gossiping while the patient listened and waited to be seen.  Every time these issues were raised the lamest excuses came from leadership, platitudes, and pie-crust promises were delivered.  I reported these issues and more via both verbal and email, to no avail; yet, when a member of Congress’ staff contacted the hospital, there is no email proof that the leadership was ever made aware of these problems.  If these are examples of “World-Class Care” being delivered to veterans, I shudder to consider what poor service would include.
  • The NMVAHCS has a reputation for killing the employment of term employees all the way up to their last day under the term. For example, a house-cleaner employee, a good worker, well-liked by the staff where she cleaned, got into a disagreement with her supervisor and was terminated at lunch on her 364th day of employment in a 365-day probationary term.  Her supervisor did not need a reason to discharge her and used their disagreement to end her employment.  By the way, the employee was in the right, and the supervisor made the needed changes after discharging the employee.  An MSA male employee, hard worker, came in on his 361st day of term and was terminated, no reason, no excuse, no justification, simply told to scrape his employment parking sticker and leave.  This pattern has repeated so often, that the veteran employment counselor at workforce connections warned me to not accept employment with the VA due to the NMVAHCS’ reputation for ruining people.

The NMVAHCS is one dead veteran from becoming the next Phoenix VA Hospital incident.  I am not without hope, but it will take the House and the Senate to enact the type of change needed in the VA to truly see significant and lasting change.  Towards this end, I suggest the following:

  1. Draft legislation, one a single sheet of paper canceling the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) of all Federal Government Labor Unions immediately, and forever sundering the death grip the labor unions have on policies and procedures that protect the criminal and steal valuable resources from government coffers through direct and indirect means and methods. The cost of labor unions in government is astronomical and removing this single cost will open funds in Federal Budgets that are desperately needed.  I know this is a political hot potato, and I know the impeachment farce continues to be a mental and physical drain.  But, as the German Philosopher has said, “The hard is good.”
  2. Draft on a separate sheet of paper, new legislation giving the Secretary of the VA plenipotentiary power, the likes enjoyed by every CEO in the private sector, to enact change. You have a good VA Secretary, but the staff is a hodgepodge of weak-kneed political cronies that should have been retired years ago!  This legislation also would allow for a cleaning of house at the VA, realigning the entire organization, placing the power to positively affect veteran lives into the hands of the PACT team and out of the hands of the bureaucrats.
  3. Place power into the hands of a roving IG team to have benefit claims immediately reviewed after a lapse in the procedure is discovered. Meaning that the veteran’s claim affected by bad decision-making by the VA is immediately checked by the VA-OIG instead of waiting around in record purgatory for new and material evidence.  Another VA-OIG team should be put to work reviewing past claims where the VA was caught, and getting this backlog cleared out.  The appeals process for benefits claims needs a complete overhaul.  While this legislation and action might require more than a single sheet of paper to enact, it is the right thing to do.
  4. The Mission Act was a good first step, but the entrenched bureaucrats are hindering and hampering the roll-out for personal gain, e.g. retirement. Encourage Congress to take up the legislation proposed, insisting that nothing else is added to these bills to protect the veracity and simplify the approval process.

I appreciate the work you do.  I especially appreciate your classy wife, your well-behaved and intelligent children, and the gains made in “Making America Great Again.”  I know the proposals are difficult; but I also know if we do not attempt the impossible, we can never know the realization of the legacy left to each American by those who have sacrificed before and leave a legacy of hope for our children’s children.  Thank you for your sacrifice and service.

Sincerely,

M. Dave Salisbury

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

 

Uncomfortable Truths – Procedural Breakdown and Leadership Failures

I-CareOn the 5th of August 2019, a VA-OIG report was delivered, but I was unable to comment due to the tragic incident documented in that VA-OIG report.  A veteran died, and while this of itself is troubling, the tragedy was how that veteran died.  Thus, the delay in writing about this veteran’s death and the VA-OIG report.

For the record, I worked at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center from 2018-2019.  From my first day to my last, I asked for, begged, pleaded, and reported that a lack of written procedures opens the VA to avoidable risks.  I was instructed several times by employees who had a minimum of five years in the administration of the hospital, who led the hospital mainly after hours, that writing anything down means responsibility.  But, responsibility is avoided at all costs by the leadership who are keen to keep from losing their power and job if something went wrong.  I countered that written procedures, where training on those procedures is documented, means that responsibility and accountability do not, automatically, result in lost employment, all to no avail.  Thus, the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque operates by gentlemen’s agreements, verbal directives, gossip, and personal opinion.

How is this accountable leadership?  What will it take to change this culture of irresponsibility?

The VA-OIG report documents that a nurse inappropriately labeled the patient as dead and did not commence resuscitation efforts.  Documentation was not completed, appropriate processes and procedures were not followed, and proper training was not conducted.  The crash cart, for a Code Blue emergency, was unlocked and deficient.  The leadership teams and committees did not correctly follow procedures and review the incident.  Reprehensible, detestable, and criminal are just some of the adjectives I have been using on this incident; but, the VA-OIG made nine recommendations.  Why does this not comfort me, comfort the family who lost a loved one, or suggests to America the problem will not be repeated?

I know the written procedure problem exists in the Phoenix Arizona VA Medical Center, the Cheyenne Wyoming VA Medical Center, and the Albuquerque New Mexico VA Medical Centers as I have been a patient of all three.  From the VA-OIG report, I must presume this problem is VA-Medical Center-wide, and I have to ask, why?  The military believes in writing everything down, redundancies, and accountability for records and documentation are taught from day one.  How is the VA able to operate without documentation, written processes, and documented procedures?

A running theme in the VA-OIG reports delivered since I began tracking VA-OIG reports in 2015, continues to be that documents are not properly completed, not maintained correctly, not audited timely and appropriately, or missing entirely.  Missing written procedures detailing how to perform tasks, and leadership were not forthcoming with the written procedures and policies needed to complete the tasks appropriately assigned.  A hospital in the private sector with these problems would be inundated with malpractice lawsuits, Federal inquiries, and threatened with closure; yet, the VA can operate without document controls, written processes and procedures, and escape any consequences, why?

The VA-OIG report detailing the death of a veteran in a behavioral health unit is not the first, nor will it be the last; but it should be!  This veteran’s death should be a clarion call for every hospital director in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, to demand an immediate correction, that leads to written procedures, clearly defined directions, and training in following those procedures — then monitoring those procedures for updates and shelf-life.  This veteran’s death doesn’t even raise the eyebrows or curiosity of the lowest congressional staffer, and that is shameful!

Senators and Congressional Representatives, what are you doing to support Secretary Wilkie and his team in demanding answers and implementing corrective action?  Hospital directors, what are you doing to fix this abhorrent behavior in your hospitals?  Hospital directors, what are your directors, supervisors, and leaders doing to improve performance and follow Secretary Wilkie’s leadership to enhance the VA?  There is no excuse for another dead veteran at the hands of the providers and nursing staff in the VA Health Administration.

America, please join me in mourning another veteran’s passing.

This veteran did not have to die!

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.