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‘We will judge ourselves by outcomes for veterans’: VA Secretary Denis McDonough visits Mann-Grandstaff amid paused rollout of beleaguered electronic records system

UPDATED: Wed., April 28, 2021

After a visit to the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough speaks to the media during a press conference, Wednesday, April 28, 2021.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
After a visit to the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough speaks to the media during a press conference, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said during a visit to Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center Wednesday that he’s worried about veterans’ access to care, the clinicians’ morale and their ability to work with a new nationwide electronic health records system that was paused over technical issues in Spokane.

“Are we giving our teammates here access to everything they need to get maximum outcomes for our veterans?” he told reporters Wednesday evening.

McDonough has ordered a 90-day review of the new electronic health records system from Cerner Corporation and said he intends to take as much time as needed to get things right. The VA had paused the rollout of the new electronic health record in Columbus, Ohio in mid-March due to significant challenges in Spokane.

The review will not be complete until June, and McDonough is not rushing to roll out the system in other locations before then.

“We’re going to make sure we’ve harvested all the best knowledge we can from here before we make those next decisions,” he said.

McDonough invited Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to join him during his visit to Mann-Grandstaff on Wednesday, noting that he received a letter from her concerning access to care for veterans and the electronic health records shortly after he was confirmed as secretary.

McMorris Rodgers has heard from dozens of local veterans impacted by the new system. More than a month ago, she sent a letter to McDonough detailing their stories and complaints.

One veteran received 15 medications instead of the two his physician ordered him. Another veteran could not get his prescription refilled and subsequently relapsed.

On Wednesday, McDonough said the Mann-Grandstaff team, led by Dr. Robert Fischer, was focused on safety of their patients first.

“We will judge ourselves by outcomes for veterans, and we’re focused on safety,” McDonough said.

McMorris Rodgers said she and her staff have met with staff from Cerner, which operates the electronic health record system, and that she is passing along complaints she receives in her offices to Fischer and his team.

McDonough said there is work being done to ensure that clinicians and health care providers at Mann-Grandstaff have access to Cerner representatives for fast turnaround on questions , and to make sure a veteran’s pharmaceutical history is transferred from the old system into the new one.

The beleaguered transition from the previous electronic health record system to the Cerner system has been an ongoing challenge for the Spokane team, which has logged tens of thousands of training hours on the new system in the last two years.

Cerner received the 10-year, no-bid multibillion dollar contract to operate the system in 2018.

McMorris Rodgers also saw one of her long-time priorities come true on Wednesday. Fischer announced that a 24/7 urgent care center will open in 2021, as long as the facility does not have another major COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have deliberately and progressively increased our staffing,” Fischer said.

After an afternoon of meeting care providers and a long meeting about the electronic health record rollout, McDonough said he is impressed by the work in Spokane at the VA Medical Center, dually battling COVID-19 at the Spokane Veterans Home and rolling out a new electronic health record system.

“I am very impressed that the team is working this really hard,” he said.


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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