Reps: Why did Detroit VA facility’s rating drop?

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Two members of Congress wrote to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs on Monday demanding answers about why the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit has fallen to a one-star facility out of five stars based on an internal rating by the VA.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn

Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said they were “disturbed” by the news and asked Secretary Robert McDonald how his agency intends to swiftly improve the performance and quality of care.

“The slip to a one-star facility is extremely troubling, and we must ensure that veterans receiving health care at the facility not be harmed in any way,” Dingell and Walberg wrote. “We must get at the root causes of the problems at the Detroit VA in an expeditious manner.”

The Detroit VA ratings fell in categories including its wait time for specialty care appointments as well as readmission rates for cardiovascular and medical patient cohorts.

Dingell and Walberg asked McDonald for details about how the agency intends to improve targets in each area, the timeline for doing so and what Congress needs to do to ensure progress is being made and ensure patients’ safety.

They also raised concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the database used for the ratings system – the Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning database, which is not public.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton

The pair requested five years worth of SAIL star rankings that are free of redaction. They also requested details about the metrics used in the SAIL system and asked how often the measurements are updated and reviewed.

“Veterans, just like every other patient, deserve to know how their hospitals are performing and what services need to be improved,” the lawmakers wrote. “Having a secret rating system only serves to increase distrust of the VA and may give the appearance that the Department has something to hide.”

They asked McDonald about what assistance and resources the VA is offering the Detroit VA and other one-star facilities to ensure they are taking action to improve care and wanted to know whether such facilities are punished or penalized in any way.

“If not, please explain why the VA thinks it is unnecessary to have increased accountability for struggling hospitals,” they wrote.

Dingell and Walberg introduced a bill this year that would require each VA medical facility to issue quarterly reports on the rate of surgical infections, as well as the number of canceled or transferred surgeries at VA hospitals.

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