Top Managers at Phoenix VA Escaped Punishment After Waitlist Scandal

Investigators found both officials retaliated against whistleblowers

Phoenix VA Health Care Center
The Phoenix VA Health Care Center / AP
December 16, 2015

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has not punished two senior managers at the Phoenix VA hospital at the center of last year’s fake wait list scandal despite internal probes finding that both officials retaliated against whistleblowers who reported mismanagement and poor care.

One of the top officials, the hospital’s associate director Lance Robinson, been placed on paid leave and the other, chief of staff at the hospital Darren Deering, remains at his position, though the probes completed last fall recommended that the VA punish or fire both individuals.

The Washington Post reported:

An internal team created after the scandal called the Office of Accountability Review found that they moved to sideline and ostracize the emergency room director in Phoenix and banish a public affairs officer to a basement after both made disclosures that were protected by law. After Mitchell blew the whistle on critical understaffing, poor patient care, mismanagement of patient wait lists, nursing errors and inadequate training in the Phoenix hospital’s emergency room, Deering placed her on administrative leave and demoted her from her post as head of the emergency room, according to the report. Her previously stellar performance ratings plummeted. VA, under pressure from the federal agency that represents whistleblowers, reached confidential settlements with Katherine Mitchell and Paula Pedene last year for the harassment they suffered. But the agency has not moved to punish the top brass who caused it.

The probe on Deering, completed in September 2014, has not been made public, and lawmakers just recently learned of it. A spokeswoman for the VA said that the agency "is not able to disclose the specifics of the internal report at this time and information on Dr. Darren Deering, Chief of Staff, Phoenix VA Healthcare System, and whether he retaliated against a VA employee due to pending investigation."

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald this week, Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) called on the VA to fire Deering.

The investigation into Robinson, dated October 30, 2014, found that the official retaliated against Pedene, a public affairs officer for the hospital, by removing her job duties and directing her to work in a basement library.

Following allegations of misconduct, Robinson was put on paid leave in May 2014 and remains there.

The VA’s network of hospitals has been under scrutiny from lawmakers following the revelations about Phoenix VA staff using a fake wait list to hide long waiting times, causing at least 40 patients to die waiting for care.

Poor care at the Phoenix hospital has persisted, according to an October inspector general report that found that multiple veterans died of cancer after receiving insufficient care at the facility. Furthermore, an independent review released in September found that the VA’s entire network of health systems needs "system-wide reworking."

Published under: Veterans Affairs