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VA spokesman: Data skewing limited to one hospital


The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va.  — The intentional skewing of patient data at the Veterans Administration hospital in Harrison County only affected that facility, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Clinics in Wood County and elsewhere in the state were unaffected, said Wesley Walls, public affairs officer for the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.

The patients were seen in the Emergency Department in Clarksburg and the VA medical center is the only facility in West Virginia with such a department, he said.

The Office of the Special Counsel reported this past week that patient data was intentionally manipulated at the medical center, which reduced the reported wait times and the volume of patient visits. A confidential whistleblower took the allegations to the counsel, which prompted an investigation by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The Veterans Administration operates medical facilities and clinics in Beckley, Clarksburg, Huntington, Martinsburg, Lenore, Franklin, Gassaway, Parkersburg, Parsons, Petersburg, Princeton, Ronceverte, South Charleston and Westover.

Investigators from the Veterans Administration went to the medical center in Clarksburg Dec. 5-8, 2016, according to the administration’s investigation report.

The allegation by the whistleblower was two former administrators directed the nursing staff in the emergency department to code patients to reduce the wait times and the number of patient visits, the report said.

The team substantiated that at times during the last seven years an administrator tried to influence the emergency department nursing staff through another administrator to place certain patients into two unofficial sub-emergency department clinics and to use codes in violation of Veterans Health Administration policies.

“These actions could have improperly reduced reported ED at times and the number of unique ED encounters,” the report said. “Use of unsanctioned primary stop codes to capture work delivered in the ED Emergency Severity Index 5 Clinic and the ED Procedure Clinic would have given the false impression that the PC Clinic had a greater workload (and demand or services) than it did in fact.”

Also substantiated was a patient care services administrator received a $3,400 performance award for fiscal 2012 because of the inaccurate data, the report said.

Unsubstantiated were allegation that included: a nursing administrator for primary care for the last seven years directed emergency department nursing staff to code patients in violation of agency policy; a former administrator (the former administrative officer) received performance awards because of a reduction in wait times and emergency department patient visits; and emergency department administrators received performance awards.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., in March 2016 sent an inquiry to the Department of Veteran Affairs over the allegations made by the whistleblower. McKinley said Tuesday he will continue to monitor the situation. Wood and Harrison counties are in the First Congressional District represented by McKinley.

“Ensuring we uphold the promises made to our veterans and they receive excellent care and service at the VA is our utmost concern. Unfortunately, we’ve seen examples around the country where the VA has failed our veterans,” McKinley said Tuesday.

“We’re hopeful the investigation of practices regarding wait times and patient visits at the Clarksburg VA gets to the bottom of the situation so the VA can fix any problems and ensure our veterans get the care they deserve,”he said.

The VA Medical Center on Monday issued a statement saying the practices were immediately discontinued and it was determining how to recoup lost payments. The Office of the Special Counsel in a press release said the 602 improperly coded veterans were charged an incorrect co-payment, resulting in lost revenue of $21,070 for the clinic.

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