If you missed our original post about the VA scandal two weeks ago, go back and read it for some important background information. In short, CNN reported that officials at the Veterans Affairs Health Care system in Phoenix, Arizona maintained secret, off-book wait lists in order to hide appallingly lengthy wait times for care. Electronic records were deliberately manipulated (and in many cases, not kept) while paper trails were destroyed. When dozens of veterans died awaiting care, their files were just discarded -- as if they never even existed. Here's what I wrote on April 24th: "Those responsible for these shameful policies in Phoenix are criminals, and should be treated as such...The federal government ought to launch an immediate and unsparing investigation into the entire VA system to see if Phoenix's worst practices were adopted elsewhere. Accountability should be swift, thorough, and painful for the guilty. This cannot stand." My concern was that this brand of corruption might not be an isolated problem at one VA location; these system-gaming methods might be endemic. Worst practices sometimes have a way of spreading within bloated bureaucracies. Lo and behold, a new inquiry in Colorado has uncovered similar machinations (via Gabe Malor):
A VA investigation of one of its outpatient clinics in Colorado reveals how ingrained the delays in medical care may be for an agency struggling to rapidly treat nearly 9 million veterans a year amid allegations that dozens have died because of delays. Clerks at the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Fort Collins were instructed last year how to falsify appointment records so it appeared the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency's goal of 14 days, according to the investigation. A copy of the findings by the VA's Office of Medical Inspector was provided to USA TODAY. Many of the 6,300 veterans treated at the outpatient clinic waited months to be seen. If the clerical staff allowed records to reflect that veterans waited longer than 14 days, they were punished by being placed on a "bad boy list," the report shows. "Employees reported that scheduling was 'fixed,' " the findings say. Department officials revealed last month that 23 deaths of veterans were linked to delayed cancer screenings dating back four years. More recently, a retired doctor, Sam Foote, alleged that 40 other veterans died because of treatment delays at a VA hospital in Phoenix.
The brass at the VA is still claiming that there's "no evidence" to support these sordid allegations, but the families of the dead and suffering may beg to differ. Note well that whistleblowers and investigators have now revealed strikingly similar numbers-fudging schemes at facilities in two different states. In Fort Collins, clerical workers were actually punished for maintaining accurate records. Keeping track of the truth landed clerks on a "bad boy list," as sick veterans languished. Meanwhile, three administrators at the Phoenix facility have been placed on leave pending a full investigation, including the director -- who has been linked to another controversy, and who raked in nearly ten grand in taxpayer-funded bonuses last year. House Speaker John Boehner is speaking out against the apparent abuses, calling for increased accountability, demanding a "complete and thorough" investigation by the VA's Inspector General, and recommending needed reforms to the system. As this story moves forward, I'll continue to make a point that ought to impact how we approach healthcare in America. The public has long been opposed to implementing a British or Canadian-style "single payer" system, in which the government controls and operates everything. Many Obamacare supporters, however, view the new overhaul as a stepping stone toward precisely that eventuality. They continue to cling to the dogma that a government takeover of the entire system would be a fair, equitable and desirable outcome. The VA is a government-run operation of limited scope that enjoys broad political support because Americans agree that our veterans have earned our help. Despite the consensus it enjoys, the VA is failing in its mission, and some of the bureaucrats who run it are employing subterfuge and chicanery to paper over those failures. Advocates for single payer shouldn't breathe one more word about foisting their costly experiment upon 300 million Americans until the VA is running flawlessly. And opponents of single payer should remind their fellow citizens that what's being covered-up at the VA has been playing out across the pond for years:
The NHS’s medical director will spell out the failings of 14 trusts in England, which between them have been responsible for up to 13,000 “excess deaths” since 2005. Prof Sir Bruce Keogh will describe how each hospital let its patients down badly through poor care, medical errors and failures of management, and will show that the scandal of Stafford Hospital, where up to 1,200 patients died needlessly, was not a one-off...Warning signs were there for managers and ministers to see, including alarming levels of infections, patients suffering from neglect and appalling blunders such as surgery performed on the wrong parts of bodies...At the worst hospital, Basildon and Thurrock, the “mortality ratio” from 2005 until last year was 20 per cent above the NHS average, with up to 1,600 more deaths than there would have been if it had the average level of deaths among its patients. However, from 2005 until 2009 the hospital was given a “good” rating by NHS regulators
They also leave patients twisting in the wind for hours, in an effort to maintain cosmetic adherence to rules that were designed to prevent abuses. There's nothing new under the sun.