VA hospital gets surprise visit from accrediting agency

The Joint Commission, a nonprofit agency that evaluates and accredits health-care facilities, paid a surprise visit to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Decatur Monday.

The commission declined to release information about the nature of the visit. But it sent a team to survey and accredit the hospital last March as part of an assessment that takes place at least every 39 months. As the hospital’s accrediting agency, the Joint Commission has to right to make unannounced followup visits.

The hospital has had serious problems recently, including a shutdown of all non-emergency surgeries that began in late September and is on-going.

The VA hospital is making efforts to slowly build back to a normal schedule.

The operating rooms were having problems including a lack of supplies and sterile equipment and staffing issues, according to internal emails and documents reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and confirmed by workers familiar with the matter.

The VA also launched an investigation into the case of a dying veteran in the Atlanta complex who was found in early September covered in more than 100 ant bites. Staffing changes were made after the circumstances of the vet's death came to light. That report has not been released.

When the Joint Commission member or members showed up Monday - it was unclear how many came - the VA sent an email to staff letting them know an unannounced visit was about to happen. The email reminded staff to be sure all standards are adhered to, such as removing all expired medications, picking up dirty linens off the floors and making sure needle boxes are less than two-thirds full.

Greg Kendall, a spokesman for the hospital, confirmed the visit by the accrediting agency and said in a written statement: “We welcome their assistance and look forward to implementing any recommendations they have regarding how we can enhance care for the (V)eterans we are entrusted to serve.”

The hospital and its associated clinics serve more than 120,000 veterans.

Read the AJC’s story about the problems at the VA hospital coming to head.