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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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VA delays rollout of new nationwide health record system that was set to start in Spokane in March

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 13, 2020

Dr. Irene Zoesch visits with Air Force veteran Scott Jinkens after an appointment to examine his shoulder on Nov. 28, 2018, at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center. Plans to implement a new nationwide electronic health records system were supposed to begin at the facility in March, but that timeline has been delayed. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Dr. Irene Zoesch visits with Air Force veteran Scott Jinkens after an appointment to examine his shoulder on Nov. 28, 2018, at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center. Plans to implement a new nationwide electronic health records system were supposed to begin at the facility in March, but that timeline has been delayed. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center is slated to be the first Department of Veterans Affairs facility in the country to implement a new multibillion-dollar electronic health record system, but the planned March rollout of that system has been delayed.

The new system is a part of a 10-year national switch to the Cerner Corporation’s “Cerner Millennium” system. The Department of Defense is also deploying the system in order to streamline the processing of active-duty service members’ health data when they transition to veteran status.

The last part of training for the rollout in Spokane was set to start on Feb. 10. It is unclear how far back the timeline for implementation will be pushed back, though VA officials are planning to announce a revised schedule in the coming weeks.

“After rigorous testing of our new EHR, the department will need more time to complete the system build and ensure clinicians and other users are properly trained on it. We believe we are 75-80 percent complete in this regard and will be announcing a revised ‘go-live’ schedule in the coming weeks,” Christina Mandreucci, press secretary for the department, wrote in an emailed response to questions.

The VA contracted with Cerner Corporation in 2018 to upgrade the electronic health records system. Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center was selected as the first facility to convert to the new system, leading to the delayed opening of a 24-hour urgent care center. Throughout 2019, the department held several national workshops in preparation for the implementation of the new system, and integration work began in December in Spokane.

Several Congressional lawmakers, including Sen. Patty Murray, expressed concerns about the project timeline in recent weeks, eventually leading the department to delay its implementation.

In a Jan. 29 letter, Murray, who is on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, urged the VA executive in charge to address staffing and facility concerns at Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center in light of the electronic health record system rollout.

“I am deeply concerned by reports of staffing and facility issues at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane. I am particularly troubled by the impact these issues will have on patient care, safety, and wait times for veterans during the upcoming rollout of the new electronic health record system beginning in March,” Murray wrote in her letter.

Just a few days later, on Feb. 3, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced he had dismissed VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne “due to loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne’s ability to carry out his duties.” Byrne was overseeing the nationwide VA electronic health record project.

Murray also noted in her letter the lack of a comprehensive plan for staffing and facility issues.

“Going forward I urge you to request necessary resources for Spokane VAMC to effectively provide veterans access to care in a timely manner,” Murray wrote. “VA should take the necessary time and resources to ensure the new EHR system, the Spokane VAMC facility, and its staff are prepared for a successful implementation, and delay the start date if necessary to ensure veterans are able to receive the highest quality care.”

The VA responded to lawmakers’ concerns this week by delaying the scheduled February training for VA staff members in Spokane.

“VA leaders have heard that call, and are proceeding deliberately and thoughtfully to adhere to the project’s ten-year timeline, which calls for a rolling implementation schedule through 2027,” Mandreucci said.

No current VA services will be impacted by the project’s delay, Mandreucci said. Mann-Grandstaff’s website urges veterans to ensure that the VA has their current physical or email address in preparations for the transition.


Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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