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Roseburg VA official calls New York Times story about patient care 'false'

Roseburg Veterans Administration Health Care System officials dispute a story published by The New York Times Monday alleging the facility had a practice of "turning away complicated patients and admitting only the lowest-risk ones in order to improve metrics." (SBG/File)

ROSEBURG, Ore. - Roseburg Veterans Administration Health Care System officials dispute a story published by The New York Times Monday alleging the facility had a practice of "turning away complicated patients and admitting only the lowest-risk ones in order to improve metrics."

"The New York Times story is false," Shanon Goodwin, the Roseburg VA's Public Affairs Officer, said in an email (full statement below). "The answer is that it’s not manipulating data, but rather basing admissions decisions on the actual clinical capabilities of the facility."

The Times article by reporter Dave Phillips, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for coverage of veterans issues, tells the story of Walter Savage, an 81-year-old Air Force veteran who visited the Roseburg VA's emergency room in December.

Two doctors examined Savage and agreed he should be admitted to the hospital, Phillips reports.

Though there were plenty of empty beds, records show that a nurse in charge of enforcing administration restrictions said Mr. Savage was not sick enough to qualify for admission to the hospital. He waited nine hours in the emergency room until, finally, he was sent home.
“The doctors were mad; the nurses were mad,” said Mr. Savage’s son-in-law, Mark Ridimann. “And my dad, he was mad, too. He kept saying, ‘I’ve laid my life on the line, two years in Vietnam, and this is what I get?’”

A health care coordinator quoted in the New York Times piece is speaking out now to us. The former VA employee talked about her termination by the hospital.

"There were things going on that shouldn't have been going on,” said former VA employee Laura Follett. “Things I was told specifically to violate - written directives and policies. And I got a lot of push-back when I would say no."

We also contacted the Douglas County Veterans Forum to get their reaction to the article and the accusations.

"Still mulling it over, I want to say that,” said Douglas County Veterans Forum president Larry Hill, “and that's not in defense or lack of action or lack of interest, it's just, this is a big ball of wax."

Here is the full statement from Shanon Goodwin, the Roseburg VA's Public Affairs Officer

The New York Times story is false.
The Roseburg VAHCS is a one-star facility according to SAIL data. On its face, this shows there is no manipulation of data because, if the facility were manipulating data to boost its rating, wouldn’t it be getting a higher score?
The answer is that it’s not manipulating data, but rather basing admissions decisions on the actual clinical capabilities of the facility.
Roseburg VA Health Care System admits patients based on InterQual criteria, which is the industry standard for U.S. health care. All admission decisions are based on the hospital’s ability to provide the care patients require and are made by clinicians, including the facility chief of staff and her clinical chiefs of service – non-clinical administrators have nothing to do with these decisions.
At its core, the Roseburg VAHCS is primarily an outpatient center, and that’s why the hospital’s clinical leadership has made clear to its physicians that the facility has limited capabilities to care for patients with certain clinical conditions that are far better treated in nearby community hospitals.
This is precisely why we’re being transparent with our doctors about the conditions that the facility is unable to treat, because it’s in Veterans’ best interests for them to be seen at other hospitals in the community with greater capabilities to deliver them the best care for those conditions.
Secretary Shulkin has made clear that, under his leadership, VA is going to leverage the best of the private sector with the best of VA’s own clinical capabilities. And, in the case of Roseburg, which has no intensive care unit and limited surgical capabilities, we are ensuring that Veterans receive the best care, whether from VA or in the community. In doing so, VA works closely with Veterans and community providers to coordinate such care.
Just as the Manchester, New Hampshire VA Medical Center is doing, Roseburg VAHCS is partnering deliberately with nearby community hospitals to deliver Veterans the best possible care based on the facility’s actual clinical care capabilities.

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