Reports: VA hospital in good shape

March 30, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

S. HUNTINGTON AVE.—The Jamaica Plain Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center facility appears to be in good shape, according to a VA general survey and the American Legion.

The VA ordered a report on all medical facilities earlier this month following a massive scandal over unsanitary conditions at the US Army’s prestigious Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The report lists all of the Boston facilities together with no specific breakdown for JP’s 150 S. Huntington Ave. hospital. The Boston system also includes a West Roxbury hospital and downtown and Dorchester clinics.

Only five relatively minor problems with Boston VA facilities are listed, mostly involving patching of ceilings, floors and walls. Fixes are reportedly under way.

Still, US Senator Edward Kennedy called the problems “unacceptable” in a press statement.

The Boston findings were provided to the Gazette by US Rep. Mike Capuano’s office. Spokesperson Jon Lenicheck said the VA told him that all reported Boston problems are lumped together in the findings because “to a greater or lesser extent they occur in all [Boston] facilities.”

The regional VA did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

According to the report, problems found in the Boston facilities included: “numerous occurrences of ceiling tiles needing replacement”; “instances of floor tiles needing replacement/cleaning”; “patching/painting of particular areas/walls and additional cleaning needed”; “minor instances of vents that need cleaning”; and “minimal pest control issue.”

“This report highlights conditions that are unacceptable, and we must fix these problems immediately,” Kennedy’s statement said. “The findings are just one more reason why the Veterans [Affairs] Administration needs additional funding and increased oversight.”

“While the VA review did find several issues that ought to be addressed quickly and efficiently, I am encouraged that the review did not find any major maintenance issues in the Boston Healthcare System facilities, including Jamaica Plain,” said Capuano in a press statement to the Gazette. “I appreciate the VA’s commitment to quickly address the routine repairs that were identified, such as replacing worn tiles.”

George Guertin, the department service officer with the Legion’s Department of Massachusetts, regularly reviews conditions at area VA hospitals. He told the Gazette that the JP VA is in good condition for its current uses.

“Is it dirty and roach-infested like Walter Reed was? Absolutely not,” Guertin said. “The care that people get is the finest care anywhere. They do an excellent job.”

“The only problem the Legion consistently sees at [local] VA facilities is access,” Guertin said, referring to long waits and unfilled physician positions, especially for outpatient and mental health treatments. He noted that failure by Congress and the president to pass a VA budget five months into the fiscal year doesn’t help.

Access also involves the best use of the facilities. “Is [the JP VA] well-utilized? Well, that’s a matter of opinion,” Guertin said, noting the hospital’s infamous new operating rooms built several years ago and then never used.

While the JP VA is fine for outpatient and research uses, Guertin said, it would require massive upgrades if it were used for more inpatient services.

Access will remain a concern as veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, Guertin noted, but added that spike hasn’t been large yet. He said statistics show an increase of about 1,700 patients in the Boston area.

The VA has long proposed moving the downtown clinic into the JP hospital. And a VA facilities review program called CARES has proposed merging the JP and West Roxbury facilities, likely at the JP site, though no decision has been made.

Both proposals have been opposed by the area’s senators and congressmen. Guertin said the Legion also strongly opposes the moves.

“We are against the CARES options that are being foisted upon the veterans community by PricewaterhouseCoopers,” Guertin said, referring to the consulting firm hired by the VA to propose consolidation options.

He noted a regional CARES advisory group unanimously rejected consolidation, but has no actual decision-making power.

“CARES has devolved into a smoke-and-mirrors [situation],” Guertin said.

There have been indications that the VA would make a decision for or against consolidation early this year, but an advisory group meeting scheduled for next month has been postponed. In any case, it’s unclear if anything would actually happen with the current administration set to leave office in 2009.

While the downtown clinic remains in place, Guertin noted that it has been significantly decreased in size, with many patients now going to the JP facility anyway.