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VA needs to improve staff response to nursing home complaints, according to report

GAO says response times can be slow, possibly impacting quality of patient care.

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department (VA) needs to do a better job handling complaints about patient care in its nursing homes, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The VA provides care to nearly 9,000 veterans per day in 134 VA-operated nursing homes nationwide, which are called Community Living Centers (CLCs).

Included in that group are three such facilities in Virginia: The Hampton VA Medical Center, the Hunter Homes McGuire Medical Center in Richmond and the Salem VA Medical Center.

RELATED: Mixed review for Hampton VA Medical Center

The GAO in its report found that the VA has insufficient policies, limited monitoring and unclear guidance for addressing complaints about care in its CLCs.

Among the problems outlined, the GAO found that VA staff did not always address complaints in a timely manner, such as one case that took one month to begin addressing a complaint about unsanitary conditions. 

In another case, a veteran's complaint about staff harassment, verbal abuse and neglectful patient care went unresolved over a seven-month period.

"These issues...are inconsistent with VA's strategic objectives to provide high-quality care," the GAO says in their report. 

Sharon Silas is director of health care for the Government Accountability Office.

 "Well, it's very alarming, especially when we're talking about cases that are egregious," she said. "Veterans, and especially veterans that are living in nursing homes, are some of are most vulnerable populations."

The GAO made five recommendations for improvement, including documenting and monitoring complaints.

The VA agreed to all of them and identified steps it will take to implement them.

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