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VA Grade: Tucson VA receives a 2-star rating on care

Posted at 7:31 PM, Dec 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-21 22:27:59-05
We now know how the Tucson VA stacks up in terms of patient care. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently released its updated quality of care ratings for all of its medical centers across the country.    
The move follows a USA Today investigation despite years of refusing to share them with the public. KGUN9's investigation into the Tucson VA exposed serious wait times and inconsistent care for many veterans because of years of deceptive practices and a government investigation confirmed the claims by whistleblowers.
The VA grades all 146 medical centers indicating whether hospitals improved or declined from December of 2015 to June of 2016. According to USA today, the VA grades hospitals on a scale of 1 to 5 stars -- 5 being the best -- and bases the ratings on factors including death, infection rates and wait times.
12 percent of VA hospital are 5-star facilities -- the Erie VA facility in Pennsylvania as well as the Cleveland and Minneapolis VAs.    
How does the Southern Arizona VA stack up? It received 2 stars at the end of 2015 and six months later in June, there was no change -- no improvements. 22 percent of the VA's are 2-star facilities.
7 percent received 1-star like the Phoenix VA -- still no improvement.
The USA Today reports that VA secretary Bob McDonald has said "To be clear, no VA medical facility is bad or failing. The star ratings are 
Tucson VA Primary Care Physician Dr. William Rees came forward last week saying patient care is at risk because he and some of his colleagues feel overworked and overloaded. "This is a problem that has not changed in three years," said Dr. Rees.
Dr. Rees reported to VA administrators that he's been harassed by a senior staff member, and the day after our story aired, he says his nurse was pulled from him -- putting his patients at risk. 
He also sent an email to VA Deputy Secretary Sloane Gibson, who visited the Tucson VA last week, after we told Gibson about Dr. Rees's frustrations. "I'd love for the doctor to call me or send me an email," said Gibson.
Dr, Rees says he did and just got reply from Gibson. Dr. Rees says he plans to tell Gibson he's willing to take a trip to Washington to get in front of Congress.
Meantime, Gibson said while he's impressed with the Tucson VA facility, there will be a change in senior staff. "I will be looking every two weeks in the status of recruiting the very best Medical Center director and chief of staff for permanent hire that we could possibly get here." 

We reached out today to the Tucson VA -- on the two-star rating -- as well as Dr. Rees's claims of harassment and retaliation.

Tucson VA's statement:

The USA Today Article discusses the VA measurement tool called SAIL, which stands for Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning. This tool considers dozens of health care measures that result in an overall rating each quarter for every VHA facility across the nation.  All VHA facilities use this data as a learning tool for identifying improvements in quality of care delivered to Veterans.  The VA is similar to most hospitals and health systems in that it maintains an internal data system used for identifying and implementing improvements in quality. SAIL is one of the most robust and comprehensive systems of its type in the healthcare industry and allows VA to assess and improve the quality of care delivered to Veterans. The SAIL/Star rating system was designed for comparing VA hospitals to one another so that within VA we can share learnings so improvements can be made. In the SAIL/Star rating system, if one VA hospital improves in performance, then another will drop in performance. Therefore, by design there will always be a distribution of VA hospitals between 1 and 5 stars. The SAIL/Star rating system was not designed to compare VA hospitals to non-VA or private sector hospitals. This SAIL/Stair rating system is intended to be used by facility and clinical leadership for improvement purposes and not intended for the use of Veterans to make healthcare choices. The SAIL stars are not the equivalent of ranking hotels or restaurants. The star ranking is a guide in targeting opportunities for improvement and sustainment in quality performance. The SAIL computations necessitate that facilities continually move in their ranking up and down. The Tucson VA has several leading SAIL metrics and several that are opportunities for process improvement.
The matters with Dr. Rees are being followed by HR.   Due to privacy laws we cannot discuss any individual’s employment information.

We'll continue to keep you updated on the progress.