Kushner-backed health care project gets ‘devastating’ review
The first stage of a multibillion-dollar military-VA digital health program championed by Jared Kushner has been riddled with problems so severe they could have led to patient deaths, according to a report obtained by POLITICO.
The April 30 report expands upon the findings of a March POLITICO story in which doctors and IT specialists expressed alarm about the software system, describing how clinicians at one of four pilot centers, Naval Station Bremerton, quit because they were terrified they might hurt patients, or even kill them.
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Experts who saw the Pentagon evaluation — it lists 156 “critical” or “severe” incident reports with the potential to result in patient deaths — characterized it as “devastating.”
“Traditionally, if you have more than five [incident reports] at that high a level, the program has significant issues,” a member of the testing team told POLITICO.
The project’s price tag and political sensitivity — it was designed to address nagging problems with military and veteran health care at a cost of about $20 billion over the next decade — means it is “just another ‘too big to fail’ program,” the tester said. “The end result everyone is familiar with — years and years of delays and many billions spent trying to fix the mess.”
The unclassified findings could further delay a related VA contract with Cerner Corp., the digital health records company that began installing the military’s system in February 2017. The VA last year chose Cerner as its vendor, with the belief that sharing the same system would facilitate the exchange of health records when troops left the service. The military program, called MHS Genesis, was approved in 2015 under President Barack Obama.
In a briefing with reporters late Friday, Pentagon officials said they had made many improvements to the pilot at four bases in the Pacific Northwest since the study team ended its review in November.
“MHS Genesis is extremely important and it is important to get MHS Genesis right,” said Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, chief of the Defense Health Agency. “Feedback from the test community and dedicated professionals at the sites has been invaluable.”
A White House spokesman noted Friday afternoon that Kushner had no involvement with DOD’s contract with Cerner. He did advise VA officials last year to contract with Cerner because the military was already using the vendor, and he argued the creation of a seamless, unified system would allow records to be shared between military and VA treatment centers.
“He still believes that the decision to move the VA to Cerner was the right one,” the spokesman said, but noted that Kushner has advocated for “moving slowly, methodically and properly” with the VA contract to avoid the problems experienced by the military hospitals.
POLITICO reported last month that the VA contract has been delayed by concerns expressed by close friends of the president, including Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, who has advised the president on veterans’ issues, and West Palm Beach doctor Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, who got White House approval to participate in the discussions.
VA officials on Wednesday said they will decide whether to go ahead with their deal by Memorial Day. To date, indications are they plan to sign it.
Doctors and IT specialists working at the pilot sites break into two groups, according to another well-placed source: those who think there is a path to make the system work — although it will take at least a year — and those who think there is no hope for it.
Two Cerner employees who spoke to POLITICO said the Pentagon and the lead partner on the military contract, Leidos Health, were to blame for many of the early problems. Cerner, not Leidos, would be the lead contractor for the VA contract.
The Pentagon report concluded that the new software system, called MHS Genesis, is “neither operationally effective, nor operationally suitable” — and recommended freezing the rollout indefinitely until it can be fixed.