The reality of the VA emergency room

Compelled to set the record straight, I'm writing in response to the article regarding the VA Office of the Inspector General review of the Emergency Department at the Baltimore VA Medical Center that cited lengthy wait times for patients ("Baltimore VA hospital faulted for lengthy emergency room stays," Sept. 27).

Unfortunately, the reporter who wrote the article did not contact the VA Maryland Health Care System for a response about the OIG review or to fact-check his information. The article contained several errors, including linking the backlog of veteran disability claims incorrectly to the Baltimore VA Medical Center instead of the Baltimore VA Regional Office, and providing inaccurate information about the medical center's work load and bed numbers. Although we are grateful for the corrections The Sun later published, a larger issue exists in that the article also failed to address the universal problem of emergency department wait times occurring at inner city hospitals throughout the country.

The VA Maryland Health Care System welcomes evaluations by the OIG, the Joint Commission and other internal and external review organizations to help assure that we are providing the best quality health care to Maryland's veterans. Thus, we welcomed the OIG investigators who spent three days in November 2012 conducting their evaluation, a process we took very seriously. Beginning in December 2012, the VA Maryland Health Care System immediately developed an action plan to address the OIG's five recommendations related to staffing levels and patient flow. It's important to note that although the OIG made recommendations for improvement after their review, they also reported that the emergency department at the Baltimore VA Medical Center is delivering quality patient care by a dedicated team of health care professionals, and that there were no adverse patient issues related to the wait times.

November marks a year since the OIG conducted its review, and since then, we have already shown large improvements. Thanks to the hard work and dedicated efforts of our VA Maryland Health Care System employees, wait times in the emergency department have decreased by two hours in the past year alone, and customer satisfaction is on the rise. I am very proud of these improvements, but I am keenly aware that we need to continue to work diligently to ensure that we are providing timely and quality care to Maryland's veterans in the emergency department and throughout our entire health care system.

Dennis H. Smith, Baltimore

The writer is director of the VA Maryland Health Care System.

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