In a letter to Veterans Administration Secretary Denis McDonough that followed news of proposed staffing cuts at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said hiring has been restricted and further staffing reductions would be required to help address a $35 million budget deficit caused by the Oracle Cerner Electronic Health Record Modernization program.
WHY IT MATTERS
McMorris Rodgers said Thursday that she "demanded" the VA secretary commit to preventing cuts to staff or services at medical centers running the Oracle Cerner EHR by redirecting the funding allocated to the now on-hold rollout, especially two VA medical centers in Washington.
"Under no circumstances should a VA medical center have to face a budget shortfall and a reduction in either staff or services as a result of the failed EHR," said McMorris Rodgers in her letter.
Dr. Robert Fischer, Mann-Grandstaff's medical director, sent an email to supervisors on May 9 that reportedly said the hospital would need to reduce its authorized staffing level by more than 15% because of the projected budget shortfall, equating to the loss of 146 full-time positions, according to a report earlier this week from The Spokesman-Review.
The strained medical centers said they relied on the private sector to make up for limited specialty care, although Fischer's email cited payroll as a contributing factor.
Shereef Elnahal, VA's healthcare chief, indicated during a press call last week that the department has already provided funding to account for the system’s impact, the report said.
McMorris insists the EHR undermined care and now threatens the facilities and asked the secretary to ensure the afflicted medical centers are adequately resourced.
"Mr. Secretary, can you make a commitment to me and every veteran in Eastern Washington that your department will use every available dollar appropriated for the EHR to prevent a reduction in staff or services at Mann-Grandstaff and Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Centers?"
THE LARGER TREND
Plagued by system interruptions, slowdowns and errors that caused patient harm, the beleaguered EHR affected operations at the five facilities that were the first to convert from VistA.
Recently, the VA renewed its Oracle Cerner EHR modernization contract with renegotiated terms, including a series of performance metrics that if not met would result in monetary credits to the agency and five one-year terms as opposed to one five-year term.
"All in all, this is a much stronger contract, and I’m hopeful it will help VA ensure that Oracle Cerner gets this EHR program to work for Washington state providers and veterans," U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the VA Subcommittee and a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in a statement.
ON THE RECORD
"There will be no further go-live deployments of the system during VA's announced EHR reset," McMorris Rodgers said.
"Therefore those funds originally obligated for further go-lives should be redirected to those medical centers experiencing budget deficits, facing staffing reductions and operationally struggling as a direct result of the EHR."
Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.