WATCH: VA Secretary Shulkin addresses report that VA hospital in D.C. puts patients at ‘unnecessary risk’

VA Secretary David Shulkin is held a news conference Thursday to address an inspector report released this week that said the VA hospital in Washington, D.C., put its patients at “unnecessary risk.” PBS NewsHour will live stream the secretary’s remarks.

A Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, D.C., was flagged by inspectors in a report released on Wednesday for its mismanagement of medical equipment, supplies and staffing.

“The ongoing inventory practices at the medical center are placing patients at unnecessary risk,” VA Inspector General Mike Missal wrote in the general interim report, adding that the facility’s leadership “have been slow to remediate these serious deficiencies.”

Hours after the investigation was released, the department fired the director of the D.C. medical center.

In a statement today, VA officials said the matter was an “urgent patient-safety issue,” adding that Dr. Charles Faselis was named as acting director of the center.

“I do believe that we have the ability to fix these issues,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told reporters in a brief news conference today.

What did the inspectors find?

The Office of Inspector General, OIG, is an independent agency that provides oversight of the VA’s operations. The OIG cited several “serious and troubling deficiencies” at the Washington DC VA Medical Center, which provides care to nearly 100,000 veterans in the area, including:

  • An insufficient inventory system of medical equipment and supplies for patient care.
  • No proper system that made sure recalled supplies and equipment were not used on patients.
  • 18 of 25 storage areas for supplies were dirty.
  • The facility failed to properly inventory an estimated $150 million in equipment or supplies in the past year.

More critically, the report notes that the lack of staffed senior positions made “prompt remediation of these issues very challenging.”

Missal told The Washington Post that the center’s problems were not like anything he’s seen at other facilities in the VA system.

“Hospitals are typically chaotic places,” he told the Post, “but this was the highest levels of chaos. Staff was literally scrambling every day. Sometimes they would have to go to other hospitals to get equipment as a procedure was going on,” he added.

The problems, Missal said, amounted to a “lack of confidence” in the department to address these compounded deficiencies in a timely fashion.

How did the VA respond?

The VA secretary told reporters that the department “took decisive action” upon seeing the inspectors’ report.

This meant replacing the director of the center with an acting senior official and a team to start fixing the problems cited in the report, along with other possible concerns the report did not include, Shulkin said.

“We are focused clearly on accountability. No leader or other employee stands above the paramount concern of ensuring the safety of our veterans,” Shulkin told reporters.

Shulkin also added that, to his knowledge, no veterans were harmed. The secretary said the department was putting the right people and systems in place to make sure that there aren’t veterans harmed.

If, during the investigation, the VA found that veterans were harmed, Shulkin said the department will hold those responsible accountable.

READ MORE: VA health care still has ‘profound deficiencies,’ report says