U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) filed an amendment that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to submit an annual report on or before November 11 (Veteran’s Day) to the U.S. Congress on the ratings given to VA-run nursing homes.
Senator Jones proposed the amendment to H.R. 5895, the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, Military Construction, and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that is currently being considered on the Senate floor.
Jones introduced the amendment after a story published in USA Today and the Boston Globe which showed very poor ratings for the VA nursing facilities in Tuscaloosa and Tuskegee. The reporting was based on secret VA ratings that were formally requested by the two reporters working on the story.
Alabama. Senator Jones’ amendment is cosponsored by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
“Our veterans deserve better than this. As the son of an elderly veteran, learning that out of 133 VA nursing homes nationwide, Tuscaloosa and Tuskegee both rated well below standards our veterans deserve was quite frankly shocking and we need to get to the bottom of this issue,” said Senator Jones. “Alabama prides itself on being as veteran-friendly as any state in the nation, but our veterans and their families need full transparency about these facilities so they can make the best health care decisions for themselves. That’s why I’m proposing this annual report requirement for the VA, which will help meet the President’s stated goal of greater transparency for the agency and better care for our nation’s veterans.”
“The VA must be transparent about the quality of its nursing homes and the care they provide,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This legislation will help assure that VA nursing homes are offering the highest quality of care to veterans and hold the VA accountable to the veterans and family members it serves.”
“These rankings are appalling,” said Senator Brown. “VA must release this data so we know where these homes are failing and how to improve care for our veterans.”
“When our veterans return home they deserve the absolute best care from the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It is deeply troubling that the VA does not share the evaluations of their nursing home facilities with veterans, their families, and Congress. I am proud to support this amendment to create an annual report that would ensure veterans have full access to information on the quality of VA nursing home facilities. Transparency is critical to ensuring our veterans and their families can feel confident when enrolling in nursing home care. We need to make sure that veterans and their families have a standard of care that is worthy of their sacrifice.”
“Our veterans have dedicated their lives to serving our country and deserve the very best care we have to offer, and this legislation will help ensure that’s exactly what they get,” said Senator Nelson.
According to the VA’s records: 32.64 percent of VA nursing home residents have experienced serious pain in the last five day versus just 5.59 percent of residents in private sector nursing homes. 20.89 percent of VA nursing home residents are being given anti-psychotic drugs versus just 15.48 percent of private sector residents. 16.7 percent have seen marked reductions in their abilities to perform that activities of daily living versus 14.99 percent in private sector nursing homes. 11.96 percent of VA residents have a catheter inserted versus just 1.88 of residents in the private sector. Catheters can increase the chances of dangerous urinary tract infections. 8.51 percent of VA residents have bed sores versus just 5.57 percent of residents in the private sector nursing homes. Bed sores can largely be avoided by attentive staff moving and repositioning the residents. Residents with bed sores are very high risk for infections and premature death.
The VA ranks their nursing home on a five star system with five being the highest and one star being the lowest. Tuskegee and Tuscaloosa are among the lowest rated nursing homes according to the VA’s own grading system.
The amendment would require detailed data sets to be shared about short-term and long-term care furnished by VA nursing homes, specifically addressing: pain, ulcers, use of anti-psychotic medication, use of catheters, patient well-being (fall or major injury), ability to perform daily activities (eating, bathing, using the restroom), physically restrained patients, and patients with urinary tract infections.
This data is not currently available to the public.
Jones was elected on December 12 in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions (R).