Veterans respond to poor VA hospital rating in Murfreesboro, Nashville

Photo: WKRN
Photo: WKRN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Ratings from the US Department of Veterans Affairs show their hospitals in Nashville and Murfreesboro are among the worst in the country.

This news comes two weeks after 32-year-old John Toombs killed himself on VA property.

After Toombs was abruptly discharged from a residential treatment program at the VA hospital in Murfreesboro, he hanged himself on the property.

On Wednesday, a USA TODAY investigation showed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ internal hospital ratings system.

Photo: WKRN
Photo: WKRN

The system compares and rates its hospitals on a one to five star scale. Nashville and Murfreesboro both received one star, which is the worst rating they can get.

In a statement, Toombs’ parents told News 2:

“We find this rating to be disturbing but not surprising. Our son John told us some of the problems he found there. Since his death, other veterans have come forward and told us of their own troubles at the facilities in Murfreesboro and Nashville.”

News 2 also heard from veterans after the story about the hospital ratings aired. Many reached out saying they were once in the same program Toombs had left.

One of the veterans was a man with more than 10 years in the military. He said he’s not just a former patient – he’s also a VA employee. He asked to remain anonymous.

“They didn’t seem to put a lot of thought into treating people who were just there for mental health reasons,” he said. “I would be very concerned about veterans receiving treatment at the VA hospital in Murfreesboro.”

The VA couldn’t comment on Toombs’ specific case but said sometimes veterans are discharged from the residential program before their goals are met because “of non-compliance to program standards (e.g. various forms of disruptive behavior; or failure to engage in treatment, such as not attending individual or group appointments, or following prescribed medication regimens).”

In some instances, veterans need to leave the treatment program early due to their own set of circumstances.

The anonymous tipster says he left on his own.

News 2 was not provided the documents that show its star-ratings system but the VA said in a statement:

The star system compares performance only among VA hospitals and cannot be used to assess results against hospitals outside our system. By definition, in an organization that compares hospitals against each other within a closed system, there will always be top performers as well as those at the bottom of the scale. Numerous independent studies have shown that VA facilities have better quality than private hospitals.”

The VA says the tool is used to identify improvement opportunities including access of care.

Space is a challenge for increasing access. We are expanding our services through the opening of a new primary care clinic at International Plaza, new eye care and mental health services in Chattanooga, a new mental health and a women’s health clinic in Murfreesboro. TVHS will open a new mental health clinic on the Nashville campus in 2017. A new primary care clinic in Sumner County is also in the planning stages. Our largest population growth is in the Clarksville and a new, larger clinic is being constructed to replace the current facility. We are utilizing alternative modalities of care to increase access through non-traditional appointments as well as expanding use of secure messaging online through MyHealtheVet.”

The Toombs family wants job performance accountability. News 2 will continue to follow this investigation.