VA to Police Hand Washing


Stop laughing; I’m not kidding. The VA recently announced a new IT solution to an old problem – employees not washing hands after using the toilet.  Rather than post simple “Employees Please Wash Your Hands” signs in bathrooms at the Charleston Pharmaceutical Factory, the VA will pay for technology to police the process. (Minneapolis VAMC is looking at a similar solution.) Despite cutbacks to developing IT solutions like those used to resolve the disability claims backlogs, the VA will spend some of the remaining money it has to detect whether or not an employee has pee on his hands. Yes, rather than killing a fly with a flyswatter, a tomahawk missile seemed more appropriate here.

These kinds of systems, Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), will be used to track the locations of various assets throughout the Charleston facility. For example, the outpatient mailing pharmacy in question has 300 employees and processes 25 million prescriptions per year. The RTLS will monitor computer locations as well as refrigerator temperatures. However, in addition to this, it will synchronize hand washing with each employee’s ID while they stand at the hand washing station. The VA says the system will allow them to monitor “hand washing compliance."

The Real Story. My best guess would be that a lobbying firm working for the RTLS industry suggested that the VA include the new RTLS within their budget, which was probably passed through the appropriate channels with ease.

This is likely another example of government waste. Here, the government will spend taxpayer dollars on another policing system. This one just so happens to allow spying on employees. A government contractor will not only get paid for implementing the system, but they will be able to use the VA as a test center to work out all its bugs. Once it is tweaked, the contractor will be able to sell the “new and improved” RTLS platform to private firms who would love nothing more than to monitor their employees’ every move.

The contractor will make loads of profit from their “partnership” with the US Government. Private companies will have increased productivity realized by more fully policing their employees. Plus, my VA prescription of 800 mg Motrin won’t have urine mixed in with the tablets. It’s a win-win-win. That is, except for the veterans with pending disability claims caught in the ever growing backlog.

This year, the IT budget was cut by over $100 million, because the VA lacked “direction” with respect to solving system problems. Obviously, administrators still struggle with the Flyswatter versus Missile approach despite the current economic crisis. So, instead of spending the remaining IT money on processing disability claims in the most efficient manner possible, some of the funds will be instead funneled away to pay for the new toilet spying system.

Still, there is a bright side. When it is eventually implemented by Walmart and Kroger Foods 5 years from now (while I’m still waiting for my disability claim to be processed), at least I can feel more confident that the people making my deli sandwich have clean hands.

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