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VA Discloses Ratings of Its 146 Medical Centers

(Photo via Stars & Stripes)

Most medical centers serving veterans across the country are improving, according to a once-withheld rating system just released by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yet, the ratings show several facilities racked by scandal continue to struggle.

Of the 146 medical centers rated, 120 of them, or 82 percent, improved in the past year, according to the VA. But the Phoenix hospital, the epicenter of the 2014 wait-time scandal, was one of the worst rated, and the hospital in Tomah, Wisconsin – another one that has recently come under fire – saw a drop in performance this year.

The performance ratings were released to the public under pressure following an investigation by USA Today earlier this month that revealed the ratings were being held, undisclosed, within the VA.

The VA gave a one- to five-star rating to 146 VA medical centers across the country indicating their quality-of-care at the end of 2016. The information posted online also shows whether each hospital improved since the end of 2015.

The report prompted several lawmakers – including Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Tim Walberg, R-Mich. -- to call for the information to be publicly released. The John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit -- named for Debbie Dingell’s husband, former Rep. John Dingell -- was given the lowest rating, one star, for 2015 and 2016.

"Veterans, just like every other patient, deserve to know how their hospitals are performing and what services need to be improved," Dingell and Walberg wrote last week in a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald. "Having a secret rating system only serves to increase distrust of the VA and may give the appearance that the department has something to hide."

Since early 2015, the VA has posted sets of data to its website called Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning. VA leaders used the data, which tracks issues such as death rates, patient satisfaction and efficiency, to create the newly released ratings previously kept internal.

To justify keeping the ratings from public view, the VA said it did so because the information "would likely confuse our veterans and the general public."

VA leaders called USA Today irresponsible for posting the 2015 ratings, and said it released new 2016 ratings "in an effort to set the record straight."

Because the star ratings are relative and compare VA hospitals to one another, "somebody is always going to be on the bottom," McDonald said last week at a public forum.

"It is a disservice to veterans to lead them to believe that a one-star facility means they won’t get care they need," said David Shulkin, the VA’s under secretary for health.

Seventeen of the 146 medical centers earned 5-star ratings, the highest given, and 10 received one-star ratings. Some of the best included the Boston VA medical center and hospitals in Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The worst-performing included Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and all three Tennessee hospitals in Memphis, Nashville and Murfreesboro.

Five medical centers -- El Paso, Texas; Fargo, North Dakota; Hot Springs, South Dakota; Tomah, and San Diego -- had a "large decline" in quality.

The Tomah VA came under fire last year for overprescribing opioids. Earlier this month, the VA alerted nearly 600 patients in Tomah that they could be at risk for hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV because a dentist did not correctly disinfect his equipment.

On Wednesday, conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America issued a statement about the ratings, calling for more transparency from the VA. The veterans group has become more prominent recently after several people linked to the CVA were appointed to President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.

"The VA has an obligation to care for and honor the men and women who have served their country, and that includes being completely honest about the quality of care being provided," CVA director Mark Lucas said in a written statement. "The VA should not have to come under pressure by the media to disclose what should already be public information."

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Medical facility Performance rating (top score is 5) Change from 2015
Albany 3 Improved
Albuquerque 1 Improved
Alexandria 3 Stayed the same
Altoona 3 Stayed the same
Amarillo 3 Greatly Improved
Anchorage 3 Stayed the same
Ann Arbor 4 Stayed the same
Asheville 5 Improved
Atlanta 2 Greatly Improved
Augusta 2 Greatly Improved
Baltimore 2 Stayed the same
Bath 4 Greatly Improved
Battle Creek 3 Greatly Improved
Bay Pines 3 Greatly Improved
Beckley 3 Greatly Improved
Bedford 5 Stayed the same
Big Spring 2 Greatly Improved
Birmingham 3 Greatly Improved
Boise 5 Improved
Boston 5 Greatly Improved
Bronx 3 Greatly Improved
Brooklyn 3 Greatly Improved
Buffalo 3 Greatly Improved
Butler 5 Stayed the same
Canandaigua 4 Greatly Improved
Central Iowa 3 Greatly Improved
Charleston 4 Greatly Improved
Cheyenne 4 Greatly Improved
Chicago 3 Greatly Improved
Chillicothe 3 Greatly Improved
Cincinnati 4 Stayed the same
Clarksburg 4 Greatly Improved
Cleveland 5 Greatly Improved
Coatesville 5 Stayed the same
Columbia MO 3 Improved
Columbia SC 3 Greatly Improved
Columbus 4 Stayed the same
Connecticut 4 Improved
Dallas 1 Greatly Improved
Danville 3 Greatly Improved
Dayton 3 Stayed the same
Denver 2 Greatly Improved
Detroit 1 Stayed the same
Dublin 2 Stayed the same
Durham 3 Greatly Improved
East Orange 3 Greatly Improved
El Paso 1 Declined
Erie 5 Stayed the same
Fargo 4 Declined
Fayetteville AR 5 Greatly Improved
Fayetteville NC 2 Greatly Improved
Fort Meade 5 Stayed the same
Fort Wayne 3 Improved
Fresno 2 Greatly Improved
Gainesville 3 Greatly Improved
Grand Junction 3 Stayed the same
Gulf Coast HCS 2 Stayed the same
Hampton 2 Greatly Improved
Harlingen 2 Greatly Improved
Hines 3 Improved
Honolulu 2 Greatly Improved
Hot Springs 5 Declined
Houston 4 Greatly Improved
Hudson Valley 5 Greatly Improved
Huntington 4 Greatly Improved
Indianapolis 3 Improved
Iowa City 3 Greatly Improved
Iron Mountain 3 Greatly Improved
Jackson 2 Stayed the same
Kansas City 3 Greatly Improved
Lake City 2 Greatly Improved
Las Vegas 2 Improved
Leavenworth 3 Improved
Lebanon 4 Stayed the same
Lexington 4 Greatly Improved
Little Rock 3 Greatly Improved
Loma Linda 2 Greatly Improved
Long Beach 3 Greatly Improved
Los Angeles 1 Greatly Improved
Louisville 3 Greatly Improved
Madison 4 Greatly Improved
Manchester 4 Improved
Marion IL 2 Greatly Improved
Martinsburg 3 Greatly Improved
Memphis 1 Greatly Improved
Miami 3 Greatly Improved
Milwaukee 3 Improved
Minneapolis 5 Greatly Improved
Montana 2 Improved
Montgomery 2 Greatly Improved
Mountain Home 4 Greatly Improved
Murfreesboro 1 Improved
Muskogee 3 Greatly Improved
Nashville 1 Stayed the same
New Orleans 3 Greatly Improved
New York 4 Greatly Improved
North Chicago 3 Improved
Northampton 5 Greatly Improved
Northport 4 Greatly Improved
Oklahoma City 3 Greatly Improved
Omaha 3 Stayed the same
Orlando 4 Greatly Improved
Palo Alto 3 Improved
Perry Point 2 Greatly Improved
Philadelphia 3 Greatly Improved
Phoenix 1 Greatly Improved
Pittsburgh 5 Greatly Improved
Poplar Bluff 4 Improved
Portland 2 Greatly Improved
Prescott 2 Greatly Improved
Providence 4 Greatly Improved
Puget Sound 2 Improved
Reno 2 Greatly Improved
Richmond 4 Greatly Improved
Roseburg 2 Greatly Improved
Sacramento 3 Greatly Improved
Saginaw 5 Improved
Salem 4 Greatly Improved
Salisbury 4 Greatly Improved
Salt Lake City 4 Improved
San Antonio 3 Improved
San Diego 3 Declined
San Francisco 3 Greatly Improved
San Juan 3 Greatly Improved
Sheridan 4 Stayed the same
Shreveport 2 Greatly Improved
Sioux Falls 4 Improved
Spokane 2 Greatly Improved
St Cloud 5 Greatly Improved
St Louis 2 Greatly Improved
Syracuse 3 Improved
Tampa 3 Greatly Improved
Temple 2 Greatly Improved
Togus 2 Greatly Improved
Tomah 3 Declined
Topeka 4 Stayed the same
Tucson 2 Improved
Tuscaloosa 4 Improved
Walla Walla 3 Greatly Improved
Washington 3 Greatly Improved
West Palm 2 Greatly Improved
White City 1 Greatly Improved
White River 3 Improved
Wichita 4 Greatly Improved
Wilkes Barre 3 Improved
Wilmington 2 Improved