A ribbon-cutting ceremony and television interviews amid a publicity campaign heralded the opening of the first Veterans’ Affairs clinic dedicated to the medical, mental and emotional needs of transgender veterans opened 18-months ago in November 2015.

“The clinic ceremony today marks a move forward for the VA medical system,” Evan Young, president of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), told CBS News. “The VA has been stepping up their game.”

CBS News heralded the opening clinic and the VA crowed with pride as the facility opened it’s doors to 20 transgender veterans, ages 21 to 75, for treatment services one half-day a month.

“Opening this transgender clinic allows us to continue to provide compassionate care in a space dedicated specifically to transgender veterans,” Susan Fuehrer, the hospital’s director, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

And while recognition of the special needs of the transgender veteran is important, the celebration ignored the simple – and ugly truth that the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center was cited by the Inspector General’s report for failing to meet minimum standards of care and cleanliness for all of its patients.

“We could not gain reasonable assurance that clinical managers effectively monitor the professional competency of providers … patient equipment is clean … [and] employees ensure a safe and healthy environment,” according to the Inspector General (IG) report released March 13.

The Inspector General is the government audit agency with the mission of detecting waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in in the VA.

Basics, like maintaining medical equipment in a sanitary condition and providing appropriate training for employees, were lacking for the 111,000 non-transgender veterans who depend on the Stokes Center for everything from routine care, management of pain and chronic conditions, rehabilitation and physical therapy, surgery, mental health and hospice care.

Those are the patients who don’t need hormone therapy or sex “reassignment” procedures and that special “welcoming environment” and compassion the director was so proud of in her interviews.

As the transgender veterans community emerges as a unique group with distinct care needs, clinics like the Stokes Center meet an important role in the VA system.

But in fact, first and foremost, all patients need and deserve clean surgical equipment and catheters to avoid infections like the deadly MRSA antibiotic resistant bacterium. Clean IVs and clean sheets. Well-trained nurses and support staff.

And given the outrageous dereliction of duty by VA hospitals that allowed veterans to suffer and die while waiting on non-existent lists for appointments that never came, the IG will no doubt be making recommendations that the Stokes Center return to basics, provide clean and competent care for all hundred-thousand patients it serves and only then address the 20 with special needs.

 
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