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Spokane veterans medical center stops media tour with Cathy McMorris Rodgers to avoid violating federal election law

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 19, 2018

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, talks with the media along with U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, right, before a tour of the VA Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center in Spokaneon Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, talks with the media along with U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, right, before a tour of the VA Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center in Spokaneon Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

An attempted media tour to accompany U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers through the new urgent care clinic at the VA Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center on Tuesday was halted by VA leadership concerned about violating a law.

The Hatch Act prohibits candidates from using government employees for campaign purposes near an election.

Upon arrival for the tour, McMorris Rodgers and her press secretary, Jared Powell, disagreed that the tour violated the law, saying it wasn’t a campaign event.

“Not everything is political,” McMorris Rodgers told Michael Murphy, regional VA network director, who barred the media from the tour at the last minute after learning The Spokesman-Review was invited.

“I have to protect my folks from political violations,” Murphy said.

The tour was delayed for about 20 minutes while both sides discussed the law, but eventually Murphy said that media could not join.

“I think it’s just being a little too careful,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who accompanied McMorris Rodgers on her tour of the clinic. Both of them toured the location last year.

On the tour, McMorris Rodgers would have seen improvements like the addition of computer terminals to admit patients, said Bret Bowers, spokesman for the VA’s Spokane hospital.

“The terminals help increase patient access and patient flow,” he said.

“It’s disappointing media were not given access to the announcement about the reopening of 24-hour urgent care facilities at the Spokane VA – which Cathy pushed to make happen,” wrote Powell in a statement.

“It’s a big win for Eastern Washington’s veterans and one more example of how she’s making the VA deliver the high-quality care that our veterans have earned.”

Powell said McMorris Rodgers still is pushing to expand the 12-hour clinic to a 24-hour clinic, something she’s been fighting for since 2014 when the 24-hour emergency room at the Spokane VA location shut down.

Bowers said the current hours for the urgent care clinic are 7 a.m.-7 p.m. until further notice.

About a year ago, urgent care center director Dr. Terese Kincaid came to the VA Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center after working in private health care and helped make positive changes in the clinic, Bowers said. She redesigned the clinic and patient flow and helped with recruiting physicians.

“We know that the patients are experiencing it and appreciating it,” Bowers said.

The Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center was picked as a flagship location to adopt a new electronic filing system, with a target date of 2020.

“That’s a $10 billion project for VA-wide, and we’re the first to embark on it,” Bowers said.

The new filing system, developed by the CERNER Corp., will ultimately match up with private sector, he said.

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