Metro-East News

Lawmakers decry high turnover rate of VA hospital directors

The Veterans Affairs hospital in St. Louis.
The Veterans Affairs hospital in St. Louis.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs admits that it is trying to fill 30 medical director vacancies at its hospitals nationwide, including at the St. Louis medical complex, which has been managed by seven different acting directors over the last two years.

The high turnover rate has led the metro-east’s U.S. House delegation — U.S. reps Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville; and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville — to send a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald concerning the high turnover rate in the position of acting director.

“I am very concerned about the lack of stability in leadership at the St. Louis VA and its impact on veterans’ services,” Bost said. “Many veterans in my district access health care services through the St. Louis VA system, which provides care to over 45,000 veterans annually. I think it is critical that Secretary McDonald do all he can to install a qualified, permanent director for the St. Louis VA as soon as possible. This revolving door makes it harder to achieve the long-term improvements in care our Veterans deserve.”

The shortage of permanent medical directors at VA hospitals nationwide has raised concerns that the resulting short-term uncertainty has hurt the ability of hospital officials to engage in long-term planning and other functions necessary to improve service delivery to veterans.

The VA in Washington announced that a long list of major cities — including Baltimore, Denver, Indianapolis, Phoenix and San Antonio — all have VA medical centers run by acting directors while the search continues for permanent directors.

U.S. senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have criticized the policy of acting directors at the St. Louis VA.

Blunt calls it “mismanagement at the highest level.” McCaskill says the policy may be linked to inadequate patient care, according to a story Monday broadcast by KMOX, the St. Louis CBS Radio affiliate.

“Why is this a continuing revolving door of acting directors?” McCaskill told the radio station. “There is no way we’re going to get the consistency and standards we need for our veterans with that kind of revolving door.”

The VA, in a statement, defended its acting medical directors as “qualified.”

“These experienced executives are working to ensure that each facility maintains continuity of operations and implements critical improvements to the delivery of care to veterans,” the agency said in a statement.

Asked to justify seven acting directors in two years in St. Louis, VA spokeswoman Michelle Hammonds replied that that its policy is “in compliance” with federal guidelines:

“VA Heartland Network wants to fill this position as quickly as possible and agrees that it is critical to hire a director at VA St. Louis Health Care System,” Hammonds wrote. “(The VA Heartland Network) has done everything within its scope to find the best candidate and actions taken to expedite the hiring process during the last two years.”