The robot takeover of the VA has failed... for now

If this is the beginning of the inevitable takeover by our soon-to-be robot overlords it’s off to a shaky start. At a Veterans Administration hospital in Wisconsin, administrators channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the purchase of a couple of robots which would replace inefficient human beings in the movement of supplies throughout the facility. Automation is a popular trend in cutting labor costs so that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but implementing such a plan does come with a few caveats. One of these is that you have to make sure the robots can actually be used to perform the desired task. The VA somehow managed to skip that step in the process. (Washington Free Beacon)

A Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Wisconsin spent nearly half a million dollars on equipment it couldn’t use, including two robots purchased to move supplies throughout the facility.

Staffers at the VA Medical Center in Madison, Wisconsin, purchased two robots for about $313,000 in September 2012 without determining whether they could move effectively through the hospital’s hallways, according to a Friday report released by the agency’s inspector general substantiating allegations of wasted funds at the medical center. The robots were not used for two years.

The watchdog found that the hospital wasted about $410,000 on the robots and a laser lead extractor, which was leased by the facility’s cardiology department for nearly $100,000 and not used for two and a half years.

We’re not given the precise reason that the hospital needed a laser lead extractor on top of the robots, but that apparently wasn’t used either. Even worse, it was a lease rather than a purchase. One might assume that once the problem was noticed they could have at least cancelled the lease and gotten back some of the taxpayers’ money, even if there was an early cancellation fee involved. But once again, that never happened and they paid for the unused equipment for more than two years.

For those who are wondering, laser lead extraction is a process used to surgically remove the lead of a pacemaker from the vein adjacent to the patient’s heart. It certainly sounds like something which would be useful in a VA hospital setting, assuming they have a number of heart disease patients, so it’s something of a mystery as to why they never found a reason to employ it. Either way, an unused, leased piece of machinery is a waste of your money and it should have been returned.

Granted, these sorts of scandals are further down the priority scale than the wholesale falsifying of documents to deny care to veterans, but it’s one more symptom of a system which is direly in need of oversight and reform. It’s been years now since the rampant abuse at the VA was originally revealed by whistleblowers and a few diligent media outlets have been rattling their cages ever since. How is it that we are still coming across these sorts of problems on what seems to be a weekly basis?