(U.S. Senate) – At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight hearing today, Chairman Jon Tester demanded answers from top officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Oracle Cerner on the future path of the Department’s Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program on behalf of veterans, medical personnel, and taxpayers. An official from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also detailed challenges with the program found in their recent review.
In his opening statement, Tester stressed prioritizing patient safety and leading with metrics when it comes to the EHR system: “We need to know exactly where the hell we’re at, where we’re going, what it’s going to cost, and when we can look for a timely delivery of a thing that we've been talking about here for 20 years.”
Tester went on to question VA on the status of the Department’s contract negotiations with Oracle Cerner. Michael Parrish, Chief Acquisition Officer and Principal Executive Director at VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction, confirmed VA has begun its renegotiation of the contract that expires on May 16, 2023, and is working on improving the contract’s terms to better protect taxpayers and strengthen performance enforcement mechanisms and penalties.
“Do you anticipate this next contract will be more favorable to the American taxpayer?” questioned Tester.
“That’s absolutely the plan,” replied Mr. Parrish.
Last week, in response to concerns from veterans, Congress, VA’s Office of Inspector General, and front-line VA medical staff, VA released its EHRM Sprint Report, which includes a set of targeted changes VA has or will take to improve the program. During the hearing, Tester called on VA and Oracle Cerner to work together to resolve issues raised in the report, and requested timelines from both in addressing them quickly.
“The bottom line is…how much money are we going to have to spend to make sure this program works and that veterans get the health care that they’ve earned?” questioned Tester. “That’s it…there’s plenty of blame to go around, and I’m tired of putting blame out. I want to see production and I want to see results. And I want to see timeframes from you both.”
Chairman Tester has repeatedly called on VA and Oracle Cerner leaders to fix challenges beleaguering the new system before moving forward at other hospitals and clinics. He has long fought to increase the effectiveness and ensure the safety of the new EHR system currently used by VA health care staff at five hospitals and 22 clinics to deliver care to veterans. Tester championed the bipartisan, bicameral VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act to increase transparency and oversight of the EHR project and secured a significant provision in the fiscal year 2023 appropriations law to better protect veterans and taxpayers. That law also included Tester’s bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act of 2021, which overhauls the planning and oversight for all large VA IT projects.