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Top VA health official denies dumping patient records

Feb. 26, 2014 - 03:38PM   |  
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The Veterans Affairs Department’s top health official dismissed a report this week that VA health care system employees dumped thousands of medical appointment records in an effort to cover up overdue work.

Robert Petzel, VA’s undersecretary for health, called the report by the Daily Caller “scurrilous” and confused. He said the moves in question were part of planned administrative work to finalize out-of-date cases, not a cover-up effort.

“No one who needed care was denied care,” he told lawmakers at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday. “This was a carefully thought out review. There was no attempt to eliminate records.”

A former VA employee told the Daily Caller that VA officials in Los Angeles intentionally erased thousands of patient exam requests during a 2009 review in an effort to disguise the staff’s inability to keep up with the increasing workload.

But under questioning from lawmakers, Petzel disputed that account. He said only about 300 cases were closed, that none of the files was destroyed, and that none of the work had to do with gaming efficiency figures.

Rather, he said, the closed cases were of patients who changed addresses or failed to respond to multiple attempts to contact them. None, he said, were patients who were actively seeking care.

Shortly after the hearing, VA officials released a statement echoing Petzel’s remarks.

“VA has established a record of safe, exceptional health care that is consistently recognized by independent reviews and organizations,” it reads. “VA did not destroy patients’ personal medical records in VA’s electronic health record system, which has been in place since the 1990s.”

At the hearing, Petzel also dismissed assertions that VA is uninterested in punishing underperforming employees, a common refrain from committee members in recent months.

Petzel said more than 3,000 workers systemwide were removed from their jobs last year for substandard performance, and six senior executives were forced to resign for serious errors.

“When incidents occur, we identify, mitigate and prevent additional risks,” he said. “If employee misconduct or failure to meet performance standards is identified, VA takes the appropriate action.”

Petzel would not comment on the former employee’s claims of being fired for exposing the alleged practice of dumping records.

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