Phoenix VA didn’t process hundreds of colon cancer screening tests due to unpaid postage, report says
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A new report shows hundreds of colon cancer screening tests sent to the Phoenix VA Health Care System were never processed in time because of unpaid postage and that led to the discovery of more processing failures.
The VA Office of Inspector General found 406 patients mailed fecal immunochemical tests to the VA last year. However, they sat in a USPS warehouse for roughly 60 days because the VA didn’t pay the postage for the kits. They finally made it to the lab in June 2022. The samples are only good for 15 days at room temperature or 30 days when put in a refrigerator. The labs then couldn’t test all but three of them because they had expired.
The OIG said a change in supervisors led to the breakdown in communication and failure to pay the postage. Investigators later confirmed the new supervisor started an automatic payment program for mailing the kits. Investigators found when the VA realized what happened, staff made a follow-up plan and told the affected patients how to get screened or further evaluated for colon cancer.
The breakdown in paying the postage for the screening tests resulted in investigators finding more processing problems. They discovered that on 86% of the screening tests, patients didn’t write down the collection date. The OIG found the facility’s pre-printed FIT label didn’t include a space where the person would write down when the samples were collected. Investigators said the laboratory manager and staff didn’t know enough about the importance of getting the tests in on time from the collection date, and primary care staff didn’t know the importance of the collection date. The OIG said workers should have recognized and fixed the labeling issues, but it was just part of a larger lab processing problem for the FITs.
In a statement to Arizona’s Family, Phoenix VA Health Care System said it agreed with the findings and has started implementing a new policy to make sure the processing problems don’t happen again. That includes better training on workflow for colorectal cancer screenings, developing protocols for follow-ups on positive tests and having a set standard for knowing about the tests and engaging in a mailing program that automatically sends tests directly to patients to increase access and quality for testing kits. “VA is committed to delivering timely, high-quality health care that places Veterans at the center of their care and fully engages them in treatment decisions. We acknowledge that we did not meet our goals in these cases, appreciate the Office of Inspector General’s review, and take their findings and recommendations seriously,” Shevonne Cleveland with the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
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