A dozen GOP senators—including the ranking member of a key committee—signed on to the bill.
The top Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee introduced legislation last week that would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from deploying its beleaguered multi-billion dollar Oracle Cerner electronic health record system at future medical facilities until the VA meets mandatory improvement objectives.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.—the committee’s ranking member—and 11 Republican co-sponsors introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs EHRM Standardization and Accountability Act on March 29 to prohibit VA “from carrying out certain activities under the Electronic Health Record Modernization Program until certification of system stability improvements.”
The bill would prevent VA Secretary Denis McDonough from approving any additional deployments of the new Oracle Cerner EHR system until he submits written confirmation to the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees on “the achievement of a minimum uptime and system-wide stability standard for the electronic health record system.”
McDonough would also be required to send the committees a report “detailing the completion status of corrections to the customization and configuration of workflow designs,” as well as “written certification that the staff and infrastructure of such facility are adequately prepared to receive such system.”
The push for additional oversight of VA’s EHR modernization program comes as the department plans to resume implementation of its new Oracle Cerner software at additional medical facilities beginning in June, following a pause last October “to address challenges with the system and make sure it is functioning optimally for veterans and for VA health care personnel.”
VA initiated the pause after a series of patient safety issues, technical glitches, training difficulties and cost overruns spurred bipartisan outrage. The new system, which was first deployed at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington in 2020, has only been rolled out at five facilities across the VA’s national network of 171 medical centers. A highly critical watchdog report released in July 2022 by the VA's Office of Inspector General found that the Oracle Cerner system deployed at Mann-Grandstaff resulted in over 11,000 clinical orders for veterans being routed to an “unknown queue” without alerting clinicians, which resulted in “multiple events of patient harm.”
Cerner, which was acquired by Oracle in June 2022, won a $10 billion contract in 2018 to replace the VA’s legacy system—known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA.
“I support Secretary McDonough’s decision to delay the rollout of the EHR system, and this legislation will create a list of requirements VA, in collaboration with its vendor Oracle Cerner, must meet before implementation of the system can resume,” Moran said in a statement. “Without these changes, it would be irresponsible to continue implementing the system at additional VA centers.”
During a committee hearing last month—in which lawmakers said that VA officials informed them the previous day that issues with the new EHR system were responsible for the deaths of four veterans—Moran said that continuing concerns associated with the software’s deployment “suggest to me that the whole effort may be sleepwalking toward an extremely destructive result.”
The introduction of Moran’s bill comes after House Republicans proposed two bills in January that would require VA to meet certain performance and facility readiness metrics before resuming additional rollouts of the Oracle Cerner system, or would mandate the program’s termination.
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill.—the chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee—and 10 Republican co-sponsors introduced the VA Electronic Health Record Modernization Improvement Act to prevent VA from rolling out the Oracle Cerner system at additional medical facilities until the sites certify in writing to the VA secretary that the software has met outlined performance and facility readiness standards.
Bost is also a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont. that “would end the Oracle Cerner electronic health record program at VA if it cannot demonstrate significant improvement but is nonetheless introduced to additional medical centers.”
In an interview with Nextgov last month, Bost said that “If VA can't get together themselves, that [legislation] will force their hand to get it together.”
“Republicans and Democrats and the House and Senate—with all of us being aligned on what we know we want to fix and the problems that we’re seeing—we will all be working with the secretary to make sure that we don't continue down this path for very long, because it’s not good for our employees, but most of all, it’s not good for our veterans,” Bost added.