The Marion VA - serving veterans in parts of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky - has been under intense scrutiny since August 2007, when a surgeon resigned three days after a patient bled to death following gallbladder surgery. All inpatient surgeries were suspended within a month, and the site's director, chief of staff, surgical chief and anesthesiologist were moved to other positions, placed on leave or quit.
Investigators later found at least nine deaths between October 2006 and March 2007 resulted from substandard care and another 10 patients died after receiving questionable care that complicated their health.
Last month, Durbin and others in Illinois' congressional delegation met with Shinseki after the VA inspector general released a report outlining serious problems, including physicians performing procedures without proper authorization and inadequate assessment of patient deaths.
Shinseki responded by sending a top-level quality-management team to Marion for a roughly six-week stay, with a pledge to report back to Durbin and the other lawmakers. The VA also appointed retired VA administrator James Roseborough as the hospital's interim administrator.
On Tuesday, Durbin said he was convinced Shinseki was making the Marion VA "his highest priority." Under Roseborough, Durbin said, the Marion VA has established a staff training plan that includes employee mentoring and requires detailed documentation of quality management actions.
"We're very encouraged by the news we received today," Durbin told The Associated Press later Tuesday. "I'm confident that at the end of the day, the Marion VA will be one of the best VA hospitals in the system."
A VA spokeswoman said the department might have a comment about Tuesday's meeting later in the day.
Durbin offered no timeline on when inpatient surgeries might resume at Marion, noting that the medical center still needed to hire more surgeons. And though the site's emergency room still is short-staffed, the Marion VA has beefed up salaries in trying to recruit additional trauma doctors and nurses.
A Durbin-pressed measure included in the huge end-of-year spending bill signed Sunday by President Barack Obama could assist the VA's recruitment efforts by devoting $3 million for Shinseki to offer incentives to medical care professionals and medical administrators.