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VA discloses ratings of its 146 medical centers

The San Diego VA hospital in La Jolla, Calif.

JENNIFER HLAD/STARS AND STRIPES

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.”

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Highest rated (5 stars) VA medical centers:

Asheville, N.C.
Bedford, Mass.
Boise, Idaho
Boston
Butler, Pa.
Cleveland, Ohio
Coatesville, Pa.
Erie, Pa.
Fayetteville, Ark.
Fort Mead, S.D.
Hot Springs, S.D.
Hudson Valley, N.Y.
Minneapolis
Northampton, Mass.
Pittsburgh
Saginaw, Mich.
St. Cloud, Minn.


Lowest rated (1 star) VA medical centers:

Albuquerque, N.M.
Dallas
Detroit
El Paso, Texas
Los Angeles
Memphis, Tenn.
Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Nashville, Tenn.
Phoenix
White City, Ore.

Medical Facility Ratings
Medical Facility Ratings
  • 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
see more
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