Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, I wish to speak to the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital Quality Report Card Act of 2009.
One of my proudest jobs in the Senate is serving on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Among its other roles, this committee provides oversight of VA health facilities, working with information from the VA, its Inspector General, Veterans Service Organizations, and the general public. We work with a lot of information--it is, after all, our committee's job. But sifting through a pile of reports to find the best hospitals should not be a full time job for those who need health care. This bill will help ensure that it is not.
Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this bill, the VA would be mandated to establish a Hospital Quality Report Card Initiative. Under the Initiative, the Secretary would be required to publish reports on the VA's hospitals which assess health care effectiveness, safety, timeliness, efficiency, patient-centeredness, satisfaction of patients and health professionals, and care equity. These factors would be assessed as letter grades, to ensure that the results of these reports are not swabbed over with bureaucratic jargon.
In collecting and reporting this data, the Secretary would have to include extensive and detailed patient-centered information such as staffing levels of nurses, rates of infections contracted at VA hospitals, volume of various procedures performed, hospital sanctions and other violations, the availability of emergency rooms, the quality of care in various hospital settings, and additional measures determined appropriate by the VA Secretary. Each report submitted under the Initiative would have to be available in electronic and hard copy formats, in an understandable manner, and allow for a comparison of the individual VA hospital quality with local or regional hospitals.
The bill would further mandate that the Secretary institute quality control measures to identify potential data irregularities that would lead to artificial improvements in the hospital's quality measurements. In addition, the Secretary would need to evaluate and periodically report to Congress--and the public--on the effectiveness of this Initiative.
I believe that our veterans should easily be able to identify the best hospitals around them. It is unconscionable to make often elderly and disabled veterans wade through pages of statistical data in order to assure themselves that their local VA health facility is providing the best care possible. Often, the factors veterans care about such as the wait times for appointments and medical attention--are not measured reliably or presented to veterans in an accessible or usable fashion. I want to change that. Information on health facilities should not be a privilege; it should be an obligation for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This legislation is a positive step in the right direction.
I encourage my colleagues to cosponsor this commonsense legislation.