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McMorris Rodgers calls out Spokane VA $35 million deficit

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(The Center Square) – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, is worried that recent technical upgrades stemming from recent technical difficulties at the VA Hospitals will lead to budget and staffing woes for veterans in Spokane and Walla Walla.

To prevent that, she’s taking her concerns straight to the head of the VA, Secretary Denis McDonough.

The VA’s Oracle Cerner Electronic Health Record Modernization program, or EHRM, is a much beleaguered upgrade to the VA’s record keeping system. The goal of the EHRM program is to get all VA hospitals operating on the same electronic recordkeeping format.

The outcome of the $10 billion dollar contract has been delays and implementation issues. Issues that have caused McMorris Rodgers to repeatedly speak out in favor of pausing rollouts for the new recordkeeping system.

Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers’ letter to the secretary followed a report from Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff Medical Director, Dr. Robert J. Fischer, which informed his supervisors that the facility “is facing a persistent and significant budget deficit in excess of $35 million as a result of the [EHRM] program.”

A deficit that he says has already restricted hiring and will require a reduction in positions unless addressed.

“Mr. Secretary, can you make a commitment to me and every veteran in Eastern Washington that your department will use every available dollar appropriated for the EHR to prevent a reduction in staff or services at Mann-Grandstaff and Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Centers?” she asked in her letter to the cabinet member.

“Under no circumstances should a VA medical center have to face a budget shortfall and a reduction in either staff or services as a result of the failed EHR,” McMorris Rodgers said, adding, “VA medical centers still operating the Oracle Cerner EHR need more personnel and resources; not less.”

A news release from her office accompanying the letter also mentioned provisions in a recent appropriations bill the Congresswoman advocated for, reminding the Department of Veterans Affairs to “ensure it consults with a wide variety of stakeholders regarding any changes to services, hours, and staffing prior to making changes and to ensure veterans are not negatively affected.”

Later that afternoon in a scheduled press conference, Spokane Medical Director Dr. Robert J. Fischer’s concerns were brought up, as well as McMorris Rodgers’ letter.

McDonough skirted the issue, saying he identified with VA Under Secretary Dr. Shereef Elnahal’s position that no cuts would be needed due to the EHRM rollout, before adding, “[The VA] just had the two best hiring quarters in [VA] history, and that’s because hiring is a priority for us.”

Addressing the commitment McMorris Rodgers asked for, McDonough said. “I’m not going to make that commitment to [the press]. I’m going to make that commitment to her,” adding he would respond to the Congresswoman directly.

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