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Rating for VA hospital fell in 2016

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

While the chief of the VA Medical Center in New Mexico contends veterans are receiving high-quality care, newly released records show the Albuquerque-based hospital slipped from two stars to one – the lowest possible rating in an internal Veterans Administration quality check – between Dec. 31, 2015, and June of this year.

The new data, first published by USA Today, shows the VA hospitals in Albuquerque, Detroit and Los Angeles all received one star as of June 30, down from two stars last Dec. 31. The VA rates its medical centers on a scale of one to five stars, with five being the best and one being the worst, and bases the ratings on dozens of factors, including death and infection rates and wait times.

Yet the medical center, which provides care to about 58,000 veterans, consistently scores high on patient satisfaction.

Asked about the scores, spokeswoman Sonja Brown told the Journal this week, “When compared to other VA medical centers, Albuquerque has opportunities to improve in the areas of avoidable adverse events, mental health, employee satisfaction” and access to care.

In-hospital complications, for example, have been on the rise over the past year, according to the data released by the VA. Other adverse events include health care-associated infections involving the use of catheters and bloodstream infections involving central lines.

For example, in the third quarter of the 2016 federal fiscal year, Albuquerque’s VA medical center received a score of 1.293 for in-hospital complications, while the benchmark was .446.

The 30-day readmission rate for cardiovascular patients was nearly twice the benchmark set by the VA for that same time period. The rate for neurology patients was nearly twice the VA benchmark, as was the rate for patients who had surgery.

Tracking the number of patients who have unplanned readmissions to a hospital after a previous hospital stay is a factor used by hospitals around the country to evaluate the quality of hospital care.

The VA scorecards, which now appear on a VA website, were released after USA Today earlier this month published secret internal rankings of the 146 VA Medical Centers. In that ranking, Albuquerque placed in the bottom 10.

At that time, Andrew Welch, who has been director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System since December 2014, said the VA rating system doesn’t tell the complete story. He said if one VA hospital improved in performance, then another would drop in the ranking.

Brown said the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque is focused on improving telephone answering speeds, wait time for mental health appointments and other access issues.

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