Acting VA Secretary tours Memphis facilities

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Acting Secretary Peter O’Rourke visited the Memphis VA Medical Center Wednesday as the Senate conducted confirmation hearings for his permanent replacement, Robert Wilkie. O’Rourke remembered his time living in Millington and said he was happy to be back.

“It’s been very encouraging to see what Director Dunning has done,” he said.

He’s talking about Director David Dunning, who’s been on the job for a little more than a year. In January, the federal government conducted the inspection summarized in this 75-page report. It gave mixed reviews to the previously-troubled facility and said a lot has improved under the new leadership, like mortality rates.

“It hurts us we might’ve not met the mark. But since that time, we started changing the culture, brought in new leadership and we’ve cut that mortality in half,” Dunning said.

But the report also highlighted issues with treatment and sanitation; they said on average in Memphis, less patients are satisfied with their care and more patients die with treatable conditions than at most other VA facilities. And facility managers face staffing challenges; they found air ducts and food areas were dirty and contaminated.

“Have we reached perfection? Absolutely not,” Dunning said.

“There are opportunities for us to make the veteran experience here even better. I know Director Dunning has taken each one of those very seriously and is working both before and after the publishing of the report to make sure they are resolved,” O’Rourke said.

The leadership said they believe employees were responding more to the changes they’re trying to make.

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