VA discloses ratings of its 146 medical centers
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 22, 2016
WASHINGTON – Most medical centers serving veterans across the country are improving, according to a once-withheld rating system just released by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yet, the ratings show several facilities racked by scandal continue to struggle.
Of the 146 medical centers rated, 120 of them, or 82 percent, improved in the past year, according to the VA. But the Phoenix hospital, the epicenter of the 2014 wait-time scandal, was one of the worst rated, and the hospital in Tomah, Wisconsin – another one that has recently come under fire – saw a drop in performance this year.
The performance ratings were released to the public under pressure following an investigation by USA Today earlier this month that revealed the ratings were being held, undisclosed, within the VA.
The VA gave a one- to five-star rating to 146 VA medical centers across the country indicating their quality-of-care at the end of 2016. The information posted online also shows whether each hospital improved since the end of 2015.
USA Today included the 2015 ratings in their report.
The report prompted several lawmakers – including Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Tim Walberg, R-Mich. -- to call for the information to be publicly released. The John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit -- named for Debbie Dingell’s husband, former Rep. John Dingell -- was given the lowest rating, one star, for 2015 and 2016.
“Veterans, just like every other patient, deserve to know how their hospitals are performing and what services need to be improved,” Dingell and Walberg wrote last week in a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald. “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.”
Since early 2015, the VA has posted sets of data to its website called Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning. VA leaders used the data, which tracks issues such as death rates, patient satisfaction and efficiency, to create the newly released ratings previously kept internal.
To justify keeping the ratings from public view, the VA said it did so because the information “would likely confuse our veterans and the general public.”
VA leaders called USA Today irresponsible for posting the 2015 ratings, and said it released new 2016 ratings “in an effort to set the record straight.”
Because the star ratings are relative and compare VA hospitals to one another, “somebody is always going to be on the bottom,” McDonald said last week at a public forum.
“It is a disservice to veterans to lead them to believe that a one-star facility means they won’t get care they need,” said David Shulkin, the VA’s under secretary for health.
Seventeen of the 146 medical centers earned 5-star ratings, the highest given, and 10 received one-star ratings. Some of the best included the Boston VA medical center and hospitals in Minneapolis, Pittsburg and Cleveland. The worst-performing included Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and all three Tennessee hospitals in Memphis, Nashville and Murfreesboro.
Five medical centers -- El Paso, Texas; Fargo, North Dakota; Hot Springs, South Dakota; Tomah, and San Diego -- had a “large decline” in quality.
The Tomah VA came under fire last year for overprescribing opioids. Earlier this month, the VA alerted nearly 600 patients in Tomah that they could be at risk for hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV because a dentist did not correctly disinfect his equipment.
On Wednesday, conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America issued a statement about the ratings, calling for more transparency from the VA. The veterans group has become more prominent recently after several people linked to the CVA were appointed to President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.
“The VA has an obligation to care for and honor the men and women who have served their country, and that includes being completely honest about the quality of care being provided,” CVA director Mark Lucas said in a written statement. “The VA should not have to come under pressure by the media to disclose what should already be public information.”
Highest rated (5 stars) VA medical centers:
Fort Mead, S.D.
Hot Springs, S.D.
Hudson Valley, N.Y.
St. Cloud, Minn.
Lowest rated (1 star) VA medical centers:
El Paso, Texas
White City, Ore.
Medical facility Performance rating (top score is 5) Change from 2015 Albany 3 Improved Albuquerque 1 Improved Alexandria 3 Stayed the same Altoona 3 Stayed the same Amarillo 3 Greatly Improved Anchorage 3 Stayed the same Ann Arbor 4 Stayed the same Asheville 5 Improved Atlanta 2 Greatly Improved Augusta 2 Greatly Improved Baltimore 2 Stayed the same Bath 4 Greatly Improved Battle Creek 3 Greatly Improved Bay Pines 3 Greatly Improved Beckley 3 Greatly Improved Bedford 5 Stayed the same Big Spring 2 Greatly Improved Birmingham 3 Greatly Improved Boise 5 Improved Boston 5 Greatly Improved Bronx 3 Greatly Improved Brooklyn 3 Greatly Improved Buffalo 3 Greatly Improved Butler 5 Stayed the same Canandaigua 4 Greatly Improved Central Iowa 3 Greatly Improved Charleston 4 Greatly Improved Cheyenne 4 Greatly Improved Chicago 3 Greatly Improved Chillicothe 3 Greatly Improved Cincinnati 4 Stayed the same Clarksburg 4 Greatly Improved Cleveland 5 Greatly Improved Coatesville 5 Stayed the same Columbia MO 3 Improved Columbia SC 3 Greatly Improved Columbus 4 Stayed the same Connecticut 4 Improved Dallas 1 Greatly Improved Danville 3 Greatly Improved Dayton 3 Stayed the same Denver 2 Greatly Improved Detroit 1 Stayed the same Dublin 2 Stayed the same Durham 3 Greatly Improved East Orange 3 Greatly Improved El Paso 1 Declined Erie 5 Stayed the same Fargo 4 Declined Fayetteville AR 5 Greatly Improved Fayetteville NC 2 Greatly Improved Fort Meade 5 Stayed the same Fort Wayne 3 Improved Fresno 2 Greatly Improved Gainesville 3 Greatly Improved Grand Junction 3 Stayed the same Gulf Coast HCS 2 Stayed the same Hampton 2 Greatly Improved Harlingen 2 Greatly Improved Hines 3 Improved Honolulu 2 Greatly Improved Hot Springs 5 Declined Houston 4 Greatly Improved Hudson Valley 5 Greatly Improved Huntington 4 Greatly Improved Indianapolis 3 Improved Iowa City 3 Greatly Improved Iron Mountain 3 Greatly Improved Jackson 2 Stayed the same Kansas City 3 Greatly Improved Lake City 2 Greatly Improved Las Vegas 2 Improved Leavenworth 3 Improved Lebanon 4 Stayed the same Lexington 4 Greatly Improved Little Rock 3 Greatly Improved Loma Linda 2 Greatly Improved Long Beach 3 Greatly Improved Los Angeles 1 Greatly Improved Louisville 3 Greatly Improved Madison 4 Greatly Improved Manchester 4 Improved Marion IL 2 Greatly Improved Martinsburg 3 Greatly Improved Memphis 1 Greatly Improved Miami 3 Greatly Improved Milwaukee 3 Improved Minneapolis 5 Greatly Improved Montana 2 Improved Montgomery 2 Greatly Improved Mountain Home 4 Greatly Improved Murfreesboro 1 Improved Muskogee 3 Greatly Improved Nashville 1 Stayed the same New Orleans 3 Greatly Improved New York 4 Greatly Improved North Chicago 3 Improved Northampton 5 Greatly Improved Northport 4 Greatly Improved Oklahoma City 3 Greatly Improved Omaha 3 Stayed the same Orlando 4 Greatly Improved Palo Alto 3 Improved Perry Point 2 Greatly Improved Philadelphia 3 Greatly Improved Phoenix 1 Greatly Improved Pittsburgh 5 Greatly Improved Poplar Bluff 4 Improved Portland 2 Greatly Improved Prescott 2 Greatly Improved Providence 4 Greatly Improved Puget Sound 2 Improved Reno 2 Greatly Improved Richmond 4 Greatly Improved Roseburg 2 Greatly Improved Sacramento 3 Greatly Improved Saginaw 5 Improved Salem 4 Greatly Improved Salisbury 4 Greatly Improved Salt Lake City 4 Improved San Antonio 3 Improved San Diego 3 Declined San Francisco 3 Greatly Improved San Juan 3 Greatly Improved Sheridan 4 Stayed the same Shreveport 2 Greatly Improved Sioux Falls 4 Improved Spokane 2 Greatly Improved St Cloud 5 Greatly Improved St Louis 2 Greatly Improved Syracuse 3 Improved Tampa 3 Greatly Improved Temple 2 Greatly Improved Togus 2 Greatly Improved Tomah 3 Declined Topeka 4 Stayed the same Tucson 2 Improved Tuscaloosa 4 Improved Walla Walla 3 Greatly Improved Washington 3 Greatly Improved West Palm 2 Greatly Improved White City 1 Greatly Improved White River 3 Improved Wichita 4 Greatly Improved Wilkes Barre 3 Improved Wilmington 2 Improved