The completion of two investigations, one for misconduct, with reports to follow highlight the latest update Wednesday from the administration about reforms at the Manchester VA Medical Center.
The Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection probe centered on potential misconduct while the Office of Medical Inspector was focused on quality of care. The medical inspector is coordinating external reviews of all individual cases where whistleblowers alleged that veterans received poor care, officials said.
“The goal is to make necessary changes to ensure that the Manchester VAMC provides the best care to the New Hampshire veterans it serves,” said Kristin Pressly with the Manchester VA’s public information office.
The progress report comes just about a month since Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin visited Manchester to announce a $30 million building improvement plan along with defending in person why he cleaned house of top management at the center.
A leader in that whistleblower group, Dr. Ed Kois, said this latest update contains too much propaganda and systemic problems remain.
For example, one of the executives Shulkin dismissed was recently one of two finalists for a new position to drive innovation there, Kois charged.
“Why would you consider him for a position to improve the place?” Kois asked.
“If I got kicked off the Patriot cheerleading squad and people asked me to bring my pom poms to the next game they would think something was wrong with this guy.”
But Kois, director of the spinal cord program, admitted there were signs of change for the better and he credited Interim Medical Director Alfred Montoya and Acting Chief of Staff Brett Rush with improving communication.
“I think there are people who are trying. I do think they are trying to do things but we are still having issues. We are making progress but still have a ways to go,” Kois said.
Signing an affiliation contract with Easterseals, bringing on New England Baptist Hospital neurosurgeon Chima Ohaegbulam to the team of consultants and working on operating agreements with medical device inventor Dean Kamen were all encouraging, Kois said.
Shulkin made the wholesale personnel moves after a Boston Globe Spotlight team report in July detailed complaints from doctors who said they don’t have the proper equipment to treat patients.
Doctors reported being unable to easily set up appointments with outside specialists, leading to worsening problems in several patients with spine issues. And in one instance, doctors reported having to cancel surgeries last month because they found rust or blood on their tools. The hospital also has supposedly been struggling with an infestation of flies since 2007.
These are some of the improvements VA officials said have been made since then:
- Affiliation: A first-of-its-kind community partnership is created with Catholic Medical Center, allowing Manchester VA providers to use CMC space for endoscopic procedures.
- Governor’s Action: Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order that allows VAphysicians licensed outside of New Hampshire to practice in community hospitals.
- Veterans Choice: Management overhauled this office changing it to a physician-led Office of Community Care with more than twice the staff.
- Recruit Staff: Opened recruitment of more than 50 positions including working with White River Junction, Vt.’s VA for a cardiologist and a medical director, and program manager for its women veterans program
Shulkin named a 12-person task force to craft by this January a new design for how to offer full services to New Hampshire veterans. New Hampshire is the only state in the country without a full-service VA hospital.
Kois will represent the dozen whistleblowers when U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, brings a field hearing on the Manchester VA controversy of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to Concord on Monday.
“I think we are ripe for being at the right place at the right time, and I didn’t start out this process believing we could change things,” Kois added.