May 23, 2018
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Michaud frustrated by repeat reported problems in Maine veterans health system

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The veterans health system in Maine provides some of the best hospice and palliative care in the country but could improve some areas of quality oversight, according to a new federal report.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General issued the report on the VA Maine Healthcare System on Wednesday night. The report was largely positive but did note several repeat recommendations from 2011 in quality oversight.

In a Wednesday press release, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said he was pleased with the hospice and palliative care results but frustrated that “some of the recommendations in this report had already been made in 2011. It’s critical that Togus take concrete steps to implement these recommendations now, and I look forward to following up with them to hear about their progress.”

The report was the result of a scheduled review process that assesses how well VA clinics are providing veterans with convenient, high-quality medical care. Reviewers visited the Togus medical center in Augusta and several outpatient clinics during the week of Oct. 15.

Of the seven areas reviewed, recommendations for improvement were made in three.

“We’re pleased with the review overall,” said Ryan Lilly, who became director of the Maine VA Healthcare System in August. “They did find a few things for us to improve upon, so we’ve concurred with those findings, and we’re working on an action plan to improve in those areas.”

The system’s hospice and palliative care program, which includes an inpatient unit and home hospice care, attained the highest national ranking in the VA system for quality, according to the report. The ranking is based on a survey offered to loved ones after the death of a veteran in a VA facility.

The repeat findings said the system should better report actions from peer reviews to an oversight committee and that problems or areas for improvement should be consistently followed to resolution by a quality management committee.

“We had made some improvements, but they thought there was still some additional room for improvement in that process,” Lilly said.

The report also recommended that all 15 staff members outside the hospice and palliative care program be trained in end-of-life care. Ten staff members had not been, the report said.

Further recommendations included that alalyzing electronic health record quality reviews at least quarterly, storing oxygen tanks to distinguish between empty and full tanks, and ensuring maintenance on physical therapy equipment.

The review also looked at medication management, long-term home oxygen therapy, nurse staffing, and preventable lung blood clots, but made no recommendations in those areas.

Through September, the Maine VA system provided care to nearly 40,000 veterans. It is composed of Togus and seven community outpatient clinics in Portland, Saco, Calais, Rumford, Lewiston/Auburn, Caribou and Bangor, as well as three facilities in Lincoln, Houlton and Fort Kent.

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