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McMorris Rodgers calls for VA to delay troubled computer system’s launch in Walla Walla

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 3, 2022

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to delay implementation of an electronic records system that has caused problems in the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to delay implementation of an electronic records system that has caused problems in the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Thursday asked the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs to delay the March 26 launch in Walla Walla of a troubled computer system that has caused numerous problems since it was rolled out in Spokane more than a year ago.

In a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, McMorris Rodgers asked that the new electronic health record system made by Cerner Corp. not be deployed in the southeast Washington city until the department fixes problems that have delayed care and left employees exhausted and demoralized. The software would replace an existing system health care providers use to coordinate care and track important patient information.

“Veterans in my district continue to struggle with delayed and erroneous prescriptions, as well as bottlenecks in referrals to specialists or community care,” McMorris Rodgers wrote, adding that the system “is still making life harder on veterans and VA providers, not easier.”

“I am asking you to immediately delay the deployment of the Cerner electronic health record system to Walla Walla,” she continued, “until VA leadership can demonstrate its readiness and effectiveness.”

On Jan. 14, VA announced that a planned March 5 launch of the system at its facility in Columbus, Ohio, would be delayed by about two months due to a surge of COVID-19 cases. At the time, a VA spokeswoman said the department would likely delay “go-live” dates in Walla Walla and other facilities but declined to say when those decisions would be announced.

In a statement, VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said the department had “received the letter from the Congresswoman and will address it appropriately,” without saying whether the launch would be delayed.

A Spokesman-Review investigation in December found the system, developed under a $10 billion contract VA signed with Cerner in 2018, has caused a litany of problems since it was launched in October 2020 at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane and its affiliated outpatient clinics in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Wenatchee and Libby, Montana.

In her letter, McMorris Rodgers, a Republican whose district includes Spokane and Walla Walla, also repeated a previous request that McDonough or Deputy Secretary Donald Remy, the VA official in charge of the project, visit the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane. Remy met virtually with employees at the hospital in November after canceling an in-person visit, a change the department attributed to flight disruptions.

According to a tentative rollout schedule VA released Dec. 1, the planned launches in Columbus and Walla Walla will be followed by Roseburg and White City, Oregon, on June 11, then Boise on June 25 and Anchorage, Alaska, on July 16. Major tests for the troubled system would then come with deployments at major VA hospitals in Puget Sound on Aug. 27, three sites in Michigan on Oct. 8 and in Portland on Nov. 5.

Orion Donovan-Smith'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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