House Veterans' Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on VA's Polytrauma Centers
Palo Alto Center Not Operating at Capacity
Washington, D.C. - On Tuesday, the House Veterans' Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, led by Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), held a hearing on medical services provided to severely injured service members at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers (PRCs). The hearing focused on VA Central Office oversight of the PRCs and specific management issues affecting the PRC located in Palo Alto, California.
"VA polytrauma centers help mend and reintegrate into society service members with the most serious battlefield injuries," said Chairman Mitchell. "We have been able to identify several problems at the Palo Alto facility that have not been adequately addressed by the VA Central Office or management at the site."
The hearing addressed data that revealed the disturbing fact that the Palo Alto PRC on average was filling only 60% of capacity and operating with a patient occupancy rate significantly below the other PRCs. The hearing focused on concerns with the management decisions made at the Palo Alto PRC and VA efforts to address these concerns.
"Most polytrauma patients have suffered moderate to severe Traumatic Brain Injury, in addition to orthopedic injuries and possible amputations," said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "These heroes deserve the absolute best medical attention that this country, the VA system, and the Palo Alto polytrauma center has to offer."
In 2005, the VA established four PRCs located in the veterans' hospitals in Richmond, Tampa, Minneapolis and Palo Alto. These locations were selected because they had preexisting Traumatic Brain Injury units. The PRCs provide acute rehabilitative care to seriously injured service members who are initially treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital or Bethesda Naval Hospital. The PRCs are managed locally but are part of a national program supervised by the Office of Patient Care Services in Veterans Health Administration.
"We have an obligation to our veterans, and especially those who were injured in battle," said Chairman Mitchell. "We are doing our part to make sure our veterans get the very best care possible."
Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, including Elizabeth J. Freeman, Director; Dr. Lawrence L. Leung, Chief of Staff; and Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye, Associate Chief of Staff; and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including William F. Feeley, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management; Dr. Edward Huycke, Coordination Officer for the Veterans Health Administration and the Department of Defense; Dr. Lucille B. Beck, Chief Consultant of Rehabilitation Services; Dr. Barbara Sigford, National Program Director for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; and Dr. Shane McNamee, Medical Director of the Richmond Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center.