Wednesday, U.S. Representative Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, participated in a congressional committee hearing regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ electronic health record modernization.
Representative Roby has long been a vocal advocate for improving veterans’ healthcare services. She highlighted the problems veterans in Central Alabama face when outside medical care providers have difficulty accessing their medical records and asked the hearing witnesses how the VA will improve the process of exchanging this information for outside providers:
“My frustration here is that there does not seem to be an urgency,” Rep. Roby said. “I understand these things take time, but meanwhile, we have veterans who are suffering and not receiving the care they need. That is why I bring up the issue of outside providers and medical records. If we are pushing our veterans to community care because we don’t have the services inside the VA, then somebody has to feel the urgency to get this done.”
“I think we can all agree that we’re here to make sure veterans are getting access to the best care we can give them in a timely fashion, and one of the issues veterans face when they go into the VA is that there may not be services offered in that brick and mortar facility to support the care they need,” Roby said. “So, we use non-VA, outside providers to treat our veterans. As we are having this discussion about medical records, I’d like to ask: How is the VA going to handle the exchange of health record information when we are utilizing outside providers?”
“This has been a huge problem in VISN 7, in the Central Alabama VA Health System,” Roby continued. “Not only do we not have sufficient personnel to handle caring for the veteran within the brick and mortar VA, but we are also having a hard time recruiting outside providers. They want to serve the veteran, and they want to provide medical care, but the VA constantly makes it difficult for the provider, and part of that deals with the exchange of medical records.”
“I want to know how that issue fits into this equation. How are you going to make it easier, through data sharing, for the outside providers to integrate? Roby asked. “The reality is, particularly in mental health care, the VA does not have the specialists necessary to care for veterans. When we have a veteran that we cannot care for inside the VA and we send them out into the community, there is a huge responsibility for those outside providers to communicate as it relates to the medical record itself. There is a lot of frustration from these outside providers that want to be community partners. This medical record exchange issue is a roadblock to their ability to provide the outside care.”
During the Obama Administration it was discovered that VA Administrators were maintaining two sets of books and were keeping many veterans off of the officials books in order to draw down bonus money that Congress was paying them for providing care to veterans in a timely manner. Meanwhile thousands of veterans, including some with cancer and dealing with suicidal thoughts, were not getting the care that they deserved. While this scandal first was exposed in Arizona; a subsequent investigation revealed that the Montgomery based Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System was one of the worst perpetrators in the troubled system. Roby’s own investigation revealed gross incompetence and even criminal conduct by some in CAVHCS that had gone unpunished.
Congresswoman Martha Roby is a member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.