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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

VA officials ‘looking forward’ to launch of new medical record system in Walla Walla despite problems in Spokane

Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Donald Remy addresses reporters at a press briefing Tuesday in Washington, D.C.  (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – The No. 2 official at the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a briefing Tuesday he was confident the VA medical center in Walla Walla is ready to launch a new computer system that has caused a wide range of problems at a Spokane hospital and clinics throughout the Inland Northwest.

Days after the VA Office of Inspector General released a trio of reports that found “serious deficiencies and failures” that “increased the risks to patient safety and made it more difficult for clinicians to provide quality health care,” in the electronic health record system providers rely on, VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said the experience in Spokane has given the department the tools to address problems as they arise in Walla Walla.

“We’re looking forward to that go-live at Walla Walla on Saturday,” Remy said. “Everything we’re doing is shaped by the lessons we’ve learned since go-live in Spokane and lessons that we keep learning along the way, because the veterans have earned and deserve our very best, and we’ll never settle for anything less than that.”

One effect of the transition to the new system that can’t be avoided, Remy said, is a temporary decline in the number of patients a provider can see each day. In response to a question from The Spokesman-Review, the deputy secretary said he expects productivity at the Walla Walla hospital and its affiliated clinics in Washington, Idaho and Oregon to return to normal within about three months.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat who sits on the Senate VA Committee, said last week that reports from the VA’s Office of Inspector General showed the department’s leaders have not been honest about the extent of the problems caused by the electronic health record system since it was launched at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane in October 2020.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable to me that VA knew about widespread, egregious patient safety risks associated with its ongoing rollout” of the system, Murray said in a statement, “but in conversations with my office, VA has been expressing confidence and readiness for the go-live date at the Walla Walla VA. This was simply not the case.”

The Democrat’s statement came several weeks after Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called for VA to halt the system’s deployment in Walla Walla until it resolves the problems.

The new system, developed by Cerner Corp. in a project expected to cost $16 billion over 10 years, is scheduled to launch in Walla Walla on Saturday.