WASHINGTON -- Congressional investigators have identified 14 veterans hospitals across the country where patients appear to have a high risk of developing serious complications from the care they receive.
Their findings, to be detailed at two days of House hearings beginning today, are the result of an unprecedented study of computerized patient care records from all 172 hospitals operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There's no geographic pattern to the list of problem hospitals. Located in 14 states from Massachusetts to Oregon, they have one thing in common: In 1989, their patients suffered the highest rates of complications associated with possible poor care such as postoperative bleeding, infections and pneumonia.
Three hospitals -- in Indianapolis, Portland, Ore., and Richmond, Va. -- also showed up on comparable lists based on studies of patient files for 1987 and 1988, according to a copy of the findings obtained by Knight-Ridder News Service.
Hearings based on the investigation by a House Government Operations subcommittee and the General Accounting Office are expected to focus renewed attention on the quality of care provided to the United States' 27 million veterans by the nation's largest hospital chain.
With a health care budget of $14 billion, the VA system treats more than 1 million inpatients and 22 million outpatients a year. But it has been dogged for years by persistent charges from Congress, veterans and their lobbyists in Washington that the treatment it offers is substandard and often negligent.
In April, the VA admitted that poor care contributed to the deaths of eight veterans at its North Chicago hospital over the last two years.
But Dr. Galen Barbour, the VA's associate chief medical director for quality management, called the study "balderdash."
Following are the veterans hospitals identified by congressional investigators as having the highest number of quality of care problems during 1989:
Augusta, Ga.; Boise, Idaho; Brockton, Mass.; Columbia, Mo.; Columbia, S.C.; Dallas; Indianapolis; Knoxville, Iowa; Little Rock, Ark.; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Richmond, Va.; Salt Lake City.