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VA Cites Fixes at DC Hospital Ahead of Veterans' Town Hall

The VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (VA photo)
The VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (VA photo)

A new acting director at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center has cleaned up a messy medical supplies warehouse and set up an inventory hotline ahead of a town hall meeting to air veterans' complaints, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Retired Army Col. Lawrence Connell, a top policy adviser to new VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, was named acting director after Shulkin relieved Director Brian Hawkins following a VA Inspector General's report detailing conditions "sufficient to potentially compromise patient safety."

Since his appointment in mid-April, Connell has overseen a cleanup of the warehouse where medical supplies are received, put in place on online inventory management system, and set up an emergency telephone contact to request urgently needed medical supplies, according to a VA release.

Connell was expected to be on hand to hear vets' concerns at a town hall meeting Wednesday sponsored by the American Legion at the D.C. VA Medical Center at 52 Irving St. NW.

The two-million-member Legion periodically sponsors "System Worth Saving" town halls at VA facilities nationwide to hear from vets about local services, but the one at the D.C. VA was prompted by the report last month from VA Inspector General Michael Missal, said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the Legion's D.C. headquarters.

"He's got his work cut out for him," Plenzler said of Connell, but the Legion wants to hear about reform rather than point fingers.

"We're not going there to throw rocks at him," he said.

In his scathing report, Missal said storage areas for medical supplies at the facility were filthy, management was clueless on what was in the storage areas, medical supply rejects may have been used on patients, and more than $150 million in supplies and equipment had never been inventoried.

The IG's office began looking into the problems based on a whistleblower's complaint describing equipment and supply issues, the report said.

The risk to the 98,000 vets served by medical center was such that IG's office took the unusual step of issuing a preliminary report to alert Shulkin to the danger.

"Although our work is continuing, we believed it appropriate to publish this Interim Summary Report given the exigent nature of the issues we have preliminarily identified and the lack of confidence in VHA (Veterans Health Administration) adequately and timely fixing the root causes of these issues," Missal said in the report.

Last week, Shulkin told reporters that Connell has been at the hospital "day and night" to address the problems, but he stressed that there had been no indications thus far that patients may have been harmed.

"Patient safety is not at all compromised," Shulkin said. "There has not been any patient harm that we are aware of from this. And we are continuing our investigation as to the actions that will result from the management perspective."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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