Report: VA nursing homes need to improve process for handling resident complaints

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new watchdog report says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) needs to do a better job of tracking and responding to complaints from its nursing home residents.

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Nearly 9,000 veterans are cared for each day at more than 100 VA nursing homes around the country in facilities known as community living centers (CLC).

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These facilities care for some of the most vulnerable vets who may be in need of at-home medical care.

Now a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is warning that some of these homes don’t have clear guidance when it comes to handling complaints from residents.

“We found that there were some gaps in terms of the policies and outlining how VA staff should handle complaints,” said Sharon Silas, a Director with the Healthcare Team at GAO.

The report said “most complaints about CLC care are likely not documented” because many complaints are handled at the facility-level only and are not elevated to Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) staff.

It also found that some complaints aren’t addressed quickly enough.

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“For example, GAO found that staff did not always address complaints in a timely manner, such as waiting one month to begin addressing a complaint about unsanitary conditions,” the report said.

The report also said abuse-related cases may be going under reported.

“VA has not clearly specified which serious complaints should be elevated to VA leadership through alerts called issue briefs, resulting in underreporting,” the report said. “Specifically, GAO found that most abuse-related complaints it reviewed did not result in an issue brief.”

“Having a complaints process at the community living centers that ensures that all complaints are investigated and effectively addressed is a key tool to ensuring that veterans receive safe quality healthcare,” said Silas.

The report calls for the VA to make a national policy requiring CLC care complaints to be documented and tracked.

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It also calls for the VA to establish a process to make sure employees are following up with these complaints and are resolving the issues.

In response to the report, the VA said it agrees with the recommended changes and expects the policies to be put in place throughout this year.

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