Darkness is coming to the surface for senior healthcare. In this instance it’s the Veteran’s Administration, where VA internal quality data documents that were obtained in a USA TODAY/The Boston Globe investigation reveal for the first time that VA nursing homes performed worse on average than private nursing homes on a majority of key measures, including:

  • Reported pain in the last five days
  • Received anti-psychotic medicine, which the FDA has associated with an increased risk of death in elderly dementia patients
  • Experienced marked decrease in abilities to perform daily activities like bathing, eating, and using the bathroom
  • Had a catheter left in their bladder, which can lead to urinary or blood infections and other complications
  • High-risk residents with serious bed sores, which may be prevented by repositioning/cushioning

As a result, several members of Congress have demanded that the Department of Veterans Affairs release a full complement of nursing home data that the agency has kept hidden from public scrutiny for many years.

Donovan Slack of USA TODAY and Andrea Estes of The Boston Globe write at bostonglobe.com that the VA pushed back by downplaying the contrary findings and calling the story “fake news”.

Yet to be released data includes the VA’s underlying quality data, such as rates of infection and injury. Several lawmakers have called for the release of the information immediately.

In a June 18, 2018 article at usatoday.com Slack and Estes describe one of the worst ranked VA nursing homes in the U.S., a place where American veterans are sent by family members in belief they would receive more specialized care, only to find they’ve been turned into “zombies” through the administration of too many anti-psychotic drugs accompanied by too little personal care.

The agency has tracked detailed quality statistics on its nursing homes for years but has kept them from public view, depriving veterans of potentially crucial health care information, the article says.

VA officials argued that the VA nursing home system, overall, “compares closely” with private nursing homes despite caring for typically sicker residents.

The VA’s hospitals have drawn intense criticism for repeated scandals involving health care in recent years, including preventable deaths, but the agency largely has operated its nursing homes with scant public scrutiny.

Internally the agency has long monitored care at its nursing facilities through quality indicators and unannounced inspections and, since 2016, through star rankings based on the indicators. Until now, the USA TODAY article says, it has kept all of these quality measures from the public eye.

Under federal regulations, private nursing homes are required to disclose voluminous data on the care they provide. The federal government uses the data to calculate quality measures and posts them on a federal website, along with inspection results and staffing information. The regulations do not apply to the VA. This information is not available to the public who are in the market looking for veteran’s homes.

But darkness is turning to light. The USA TODAY/The Boston Globe article quotes VA press secretary Curt Cashour as blaming the Obama administration for resisting making quality data public. “But under President Trump’s leadership,” the articles quotes Cashour from a June 12, 2018 statement,” transparency and accountability have become hallmarks of VA.”

Both the Republican-led House and Senate VA committees requested briefings from VA officials following the damning report. Transparency and accountability is what’s coming to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, then the “fake news” won’t matter.

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