Federal inspectors find staffing shortages, ‘moral distress’ in VA Western New York Healthcare System

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) – A federal inspection report from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General detailed staffing shortages within the VA Western New York Healthcare System.

And now, a federal lawmaker from our area wants answers.

Federal inspectors looked at operations over a two-year period at the Buffalo and Batavia VA hospitals and found numerous staffing shortages in clinical and non-clinical areas within the VA Western New York Healthcare System.

Inspectors found staffing shortages among nurses, nutritionists, and with inpatient mental health and safety management.

The report says there were feelings among staff of “moral distress at work.”

According to the report, the 2020 All Employee Survey for VA workers defines moral distress as being “unsure about the right thing to do or could not carry out what (someone) believed to be the right thing.”

Despite these findings, the report says patients “generally appeared satisfied with the care provided.”

The inspection examined operations from March 22, 2019, through June 25, 2021. Many industries, including workers across the health care field have reported work force shortages.

In response to the audit, the VA Western New York Healthcare System says the findings of moral distress are a reflection of the pandemic and not VA operations and that last month, legislation was approved in Washington, increasing salary caps for VA health care workers.

“The Veterans Integrated Service Network Director and System Director agreed with the comprehensive healthcare inspection findings and recommendations and provided acceptable improvement plans. The OIG will follow up on the planned actions for the open recommendations until they are completed, ”John D. Daigh, Jr., MD Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections.

The inspection report indicates that some staffing shortages have been addressed, but others persist:

“The Chief of Staff stated that some of the shortages remain the same but added that gastroenterology, neurology, and cardiac services should also be on the list. Additionally, the Chief of Staff reported that leaders addressed the psychiatry shortage by hiring advanced practice RNs and physician assistants and partnering with local colleges to recruit medical support assistants. The ADPNS described supplementing the nursing staff with float, intermittent, and part-time staff. ”

Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins says he and his office will review the report.

“We have to make sure the VA is properly staffed and led to best serve our veterans at that facility,” Higgins said, “And by early next week, we will make known our concerns and hope that the VA makes the proper adjustments so as to correct these problems. ”

Higgins also said: “We will want to see you know what the response is and more importantly what corrective are going to be taken.”

The VA is planning to build a new medical facility in Buffalo.

Also related to the health care crisis, on Thursday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that state lawmakers reached a “conceptual agreement” on a $ 220 billion budget. Hochul announced there will be $ 1.2 billion for bonuses for frontline health care workers and billions more to support a $ 3 wage increase for home health care aides.

“We can not continue to have the health care services that New Yorkers deserve under these circumstances, so to stop the hemorrhaging of health care workers, let’s stop talking about we owe them a debt of gratitude and pay them some of that debt,” Hochul said .

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.

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