WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing today on hiring practices and quality control in VA medical facilities. Recently, VA's internal tracking found a sharp spike in deaths at the Marion, Illinois VA Medical Center, and five clinicians have been reassigned to non-clinical areas or placed on administrative leave. Both the VA Medical Inspector and the Office of the Inspector General are investigating the situation.
"We now have serious concerns and questions about the VA healthcare background check process, and how VA hospital managers at Marion dealt with early warning signs that a surgeon was not capable and might have been harming patients. I am eagerly awaiting the results of the Inspector General's report on the troubling situation in Marion," said Senator Akaka.
The witnesses at today's hearing included Gerald M. Cross, MD, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, accompanied by Peter Almenoff, MD, Director, VA Heartland Network, VISN 15, George O. Maish, Jr., Chief of Surgery, Lebanon, PA, VA Medical Center, and Kather Enchelmayer, MS, MHSA, Director of Quality Standards, Office of Quality Performance, Veterans Health Administration; Randall Williamson, Director of Health Care, Government Accountability Office; Tammy Duckworth, Director, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs; and Steven McCarty, Veteran, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bedford, Texas.
Chairman Akaka's opening statement is copied below:
Aloha. This morning's hearing will focus on hiring practices and quality controls in VA hospitals and clinics. Among the issues we will address are the recent events at the Marion, Illinois, VA Medical Center. VA's internal tracking found a sharp and disturbing increase in the number of deaths at that hospital. In addition, they found cases of serious and unexpected complications from routine surgeries performed there.
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I want to make sure that all veterans get the best possible care from the best possible health care practitioners. To achieve that goal, it is vital to ensure that providers are appropriately checked for their credentials and privileges.
I note that the Inspector General's office is in the midst of an investigation about the personnel involved in those events at the Marion VA, and because of this the IG will not be testifying.
Knowing of Senator Durbin's interest and with Senator Burr's concurrence, I have asked Senator Durbin to join us on the dais for this hearing. While this issue was called because of the troubling situation at the Marion VA, it may indeed have implications for the entire VA health care system and the more than 140,000 providers employed by VA.
When the IG's investigation is completed, the Committee will review that report to ensure that no structural problems exist in VA's process to appropriately screen its employees. If systemic problems are found, we will work to address those.
I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses.