Pittsburgh Va Tackles Hospital Supply Shortages Post-Gazette Story Set off a Flurry of Changes

By Hamill, Sean D. | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), July 19, 2019 | Go to article overview

Pittsburgh Va Tackles Hospital Supply Shortages Post-Gazette Story Set off a Flurry of Changes


Hamill, Sean D., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


After scrambling to get in supply orders that had gone unfilled for days or weeks, the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs Healthcare System has told members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation that "following an all-hands-on-deck effort," its supply closets were now 99% stocked.

In an email to the delegation this week, the Pittsburgh VA criticized the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for a story Sunday about the shortages, saying the report "includes many inaccuracies and misrepresentations," even though it cites only one inaccuracy.

The rest of the nearly 700-word email - sent in response to inquiries from members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation after the story appeared - agrees with the Post-Gazette's description of the supply-shortage problems detailed by two VA employees who asked not to be identified.

"While VAPHS has experienced ongoing challenges since the inception of this contract, this most recent situation is more disruptive than any we've experienced thus far," the email says.

"There have been instances where the vendor has not fulfilled complete deliveries of ordered supplies, especially over the last several weeks. The prime vendor has also experienced communications and information technology challenges. Unfortunately, there has also been an increase in manufacturer back orders during this time frame."

VA employees say the inaccuracy the email describes - the Post-Gazette story said the VA was not to keep more than 30 days' worth of some supplies when the limit is actually 15 days - shows that the situation was worse than the Post-Gazette story outlined.

"It's harder to just keep a 15-day supply instead of 30 days," said a VA employee who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of reprisals. "It's true that most supplies have to be kept to just a 15-day supply. But it's even worse" than trying to adhere to a 30-day limit.

Supplies kept to the 15-day limit are supposed to be those delivered by the "prime vendor," which, for the past two years has been American Medical Depot. By contract, AMD is supposed to get supplies to the VA rapidly so that stock is never exhausted. Supplies provided by others contractors fall under the 30-day limit.

VA employees told the Post-Gazette for Sunday's story that AMD had been unable to keep up, because of contracting and technical issues, resulting in Pittsburgh VA campuses in Oakland and Aspinwall running out of stock ranging from everyday items such as gloves and absorbent bed sheets to critical medical items such as sterile sponge gauze and tracheotomy tubes.

In the email, the Pittsburgh VA told members of the Pennsylvania delegation that because of the supply problems, it had asked the regional VA office to allow it to apply the 30-day standard to items from AMD that are normally subject to the 15-day standard.

The regional office agreed, and the 30-day standard now will apply to all supplies at least until Sept. 30 "or until reliable prime vendor deliveries resume," the VA email said.

Though VA employees maintain that patient care has been impacted by the lack of supplies - forcing, in some cases, nurses to work around the shortages of such items as absorbent bed sheets, urinals and wash basins - the VA said in the email that it was "unaware of any patient harm caused by these temporary supply disruptions [and] we regret any inconvenience or delay for our veterans or staff. …

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