Report: VA hospital can change its culture, expand services
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire veterans hospital accused of having a fly-infested operating room and mistreating patients should expand its range of services, work more closely with the community and promote a culture that enhances accountability, according to a report issued Thursday.
Top officials from the Manchester VA medical center were removed last year and a task force, consisting of local medical professionals, veterans and veterans affairs officials, was appointed after The Boston Globe reported whistleblower complaints about substandard treatment at the hospital.
The task force offered 29 recommendations. Most are focused on ways to improve care and expand mental health services, women’s services and services for older veterans. It also calls for creating an ambulatory surgical care facility, regional amputation center and the creation of a special facility for veterans suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.
It didn’t include calls from some veterans and politicians to expand the facility into a full-service hospital. Instead, the report recommended renovations at the Manchester center and sharing services with other regional facilities including the facility at White River Junction Vermont.
The whistleblowers, most of whom were doctors and other medical center staff, described an operating room so dirty there were flies, surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized and patients whose conditions were ignored or mistreated. They also accused administrators of essentially dismantling the hospital’s cardiology and surgical programs.
The task force also noted that leadership needs to continue working to improve accountability and put in place a system that ensures staff complaints on care and cleanliness get attention and the problems get resolved.
It also recommended the medical center better engage with the community. When the Globe report published last summer, veterans affairs officials remained mum. The task force noted that outreach efforts have begun and it praised the current leadership for working more closely with veterans groups, community health organizations and political leaders.
Alfred Montoya, director of Manchester’s center, said the recommendations “further empowers” the center to “continue on the path to expand services.”
Dr. William “Ed” Kois, who directs the center’s spinal cord program and was the first person to draw attention to insufficient care, said he was “pleasantly surprised” his complaints resulted in these recommendations. While he called the task force report a good start, he was disappointed it didn’t recommend a full service hospital.
“It’s a beginning. It’s not where I want to be but better than what it used to be,” he said. “I would have hoped to have a full service hospital but I think I can work with community partners. Having an ambulatory care center and better facilities on campus and utilizing resources when appropriate is something we can work with.”
Dr. Stewart Levenson, a whistleblower and Republican running to replace Rep. Annie Kuster in the state’s Second Congressional District, was more critical.
“The report was very disappointing. Nothing was mentioned about any real transformational investment to the Manchester campus,” he said. “The main building in Manchester is falling apart. It costs more to maintain than to rebuild.”
Several members of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation also would have liked to see a recommendation for a full-service hospital. But they all said the recommendation for expanded services and better community collaboration would result in better care for the state’s veterans. Several praised the calls to expand mental health, pain management and substance abuse treatment services.
“Although I’m disappointed that the report doesn’t recommend building a full-service hospital, I believe the recommendations put the Manchester (medical center) on course to become a model for the nation,” Kuster said.