The congressional house call paid to the troubled St. Cloud Veterans Affairs Medical Center recently wasn’t a cure-all, but it was a sound first step toward healing the facility’s long-simmering conflicts between management and staff.
All Minnesotans have a strong interest in ensuring that medical care delivered by the VA system is world-class. Veterans deserve nothing less. That’s why two of the state’s U.S. House representatives — Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Tom Emmer — merit praise for their willingness to wade into the workplace tensions at this central Minnesota facility and push for solutions.
Walz, who represents southern Minnesota, and Emmer, whose district the facility is in, visited the medical center a week ago. They spent much of the day in closed-door meetings to give fair hearings to concerns. It was abundantly clear in the pair’s news conference afterward that the issues triggering a 2013 investigation of a corrosive work atmosphere had yet to be resolved.
Walz and Emmer astutely recommended federal mediation after seeing the continuing acrimony and concluding that relations were toxic enough to prevent meaningful communications, much less progress. Hearing from two well-known officeholders who took the time to visit and listen is helpful. The medical center’s management and union staff have welcomed mediation, although they should realize it’s a start, not a solution in itself. Much more work will be required to right relations.
It is hard not to lament how long it has taken to get to a point where progress is possible. The 2013 investigation, which was triggered by a whistleblower’s call to a hot line, led to a report that delved into some of these grievances. But bureaucratic procedures at the VA inspector general kept the report from being made public until late this summer.
Few, if any, employees were aware of the report and its findings. Nor were congressional watchdogs aware of the facility’s troubles. Had the information been available sooner, it’s likely that concerns would have received an earlier airing and solutions would have been found sooner. That would have benefited all of the facility’s employees and, more important, the veterans who rely on well-oiled care teams.
Walz and Emmer also need to stay involved. Their visit was a welcome example of bipartisanship. Continued teamwork is needed to ensure that mediation leads to swift implementation of real solutions. A bill introduced Wednesday speaks well of their commitment to the St. Cloud VA and, more broadly, to quality veterans’ health care. The two are champions of legislation that would improve transparency in the inspector general’s office.
The report detailing tensions at the St. Cloud VA shouldn’t have been shelved for two years. If passed, the bill would ensure that reports like it are made public as soon as possible. That would help the VA and its watchdogs identify and fix problems earlier, helping this agency fulfill its critical mission.