Late Breaking News
Legislators Skeptical about Improvements at Problem Plagued Miami VAMC
WASHINGTON — Only a few weeks after members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs expressed skepticism about testimony that the problem-plagued Miami VA Medical Center (VAMC) is now running smoothly, the facility’s director was removed from her position.
Reassurances that the facility is taking steps to improve safety and regulatory practices were not well-received by committee members, who expressed concern that those efforts were not quick or comprehensive enough to salvage the hospital’s reputation. Legislators were especially vehement about the lack of action taken against staff members, as recommended by a VA central office report, after a major infection control lapse and other troubling issues.
Last month, VA announced that Mary Berrocal, director of the Miami VA Healthcare System since 2008, would be leaving her post. Berrocal is not being fired but is being reassigned to another position in VA.
|Jeff Miller (R-FL)|
The Miami VAMC’s reputation came under fire in 2009 when it was discovered and made public that incorrect reprocessing of endoscopy equipment had put more than 2,000 veterans at risk for infection. There was a subsequent failure to inform all of the patients put at risk, and some veterans were not being informed of the danger until two years after the discovery.
“Failure to identify and notify everyone at risk because patient logbooks were locked away in a safe is nearly impossible to believe,” House VA Committee Chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) said at a recent hearing focusing on the Miami VAMC. “I only say ‘nearly impossible’ because that is what, in fact, happened.”
After several investigations and the implementation of new practices, VA leadership told the committee in a briefing that things were running smoothly at the Miami VAMC, Miller said. A VA Inspector General report released in August revealed, however, that, in one case, 50% of facility employees still failed to properly sterilize reusable equipment.
Similar decontamination failures occurred around the same time period at other VAMCs, but this was not the only high-profile regulatory failure at the Miami hospital. Following that incident, investigators found that the personal information of 18 patients at the hospital had been sold for profit.
More recently, an Air Force veteran, who was at risk for suicide and had been brought to the Miami VAMC from neighboring Jackson Memorial Hospital, escaped from the Miami facility and committed “suicide by cop” by engaging police officer in a gun battle.
According to then-director Berrocal, the facility has made strides in improving its security and regulatory practices.
“Things in Miami are steadily improving,” she said. “In the sterile processing department, we’ve undergone a lot of changes. We’ve ensured that staff in the section has high credentials and a clear understanding of [procedure]. In addition, the individual that leads that area [is] certified in instrument sterilization.”