If it wasn’t for USA Today’s Donovan Slack, we may have never known that the Veterans Affairs agency had been rating about 150 of its medical centers each quarter on a scale of one to five. Texas and Tennessee were found to have the worst ratings; VA hospitals in Dallas, El Paso, Nashville, Memphis and Murfreesboro all had just one star. The highest rated facilities were in Massachusetts and New York. The ratings were based on the rate of deaths and infections, avoidable complications and wait times.
So, why wasn't this made public? Surely, veterans deserve to know how their local clinics are performing.
Apparently the VA was concerned that the low ratings would deter patients.
“My concern is that veterans are going to see that their hospital is a 'one' in our star system, assume that’s bad quality and veterans that need care are not going to get care,” VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin told the newspaper. “And they’re going to stay away from hospitals and that’s going to hurt people.”
Isn't that kind of the point? Veterans need as much information as possible to ensure they are making the best decision for their health care. Instead, the VA claimed the rating system was only to be used as their own "internal improvement tool."
This rating system proves that it's not just the centers making headlines that are failing our veterans. We know that the Tomah, Wisconsin VA infected hundreds of patients with HIV, and the Phoenix VA manipulated wait time schedules. Yet, thanks to the USA Today, we know the problems go much deeper than that.
As to whether the rating system has been helpful in terms of improving the VA, Ms. Slack said it's been a "mixed bag." Since 2014, veterans are dying at lower rates, yet there have been declines in terms of complications, bloodstream infections, and wait times.