VA watchdog finds leadership problems led to decreased care for veterans

Report cites WBTV whistleblower investigation
The report, released Tuesday, studied the overall culture and delivery of service of the VA’s healthcare region covering North Carolina and Virginia.
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 11:17 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 31, 2022 at 9:57 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A new report from the watchdog for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Inspector General, details problems with top regional VA leadership that it says led to decreased care for veterans.

The report, released Tuesday, studied the overall culture and delivery of service of the VA’s healthcare region covering North Carolina and Virginia, known as VISN 6.

WBTV has spent years investigating allegations of harassment and retaliation by the former VISN director DeAnne Seekins.

Seekins retired in January 2021 after investigations into allegations against her by multiple federal offices, including the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.

The OIG’s report directly took aim at Seekins’ leadership.

“As reported by the local media, the previous Network Director, who retired in January 2021, experienced public disagreements with other VISN staff,” the report said, linking to two WBTV stories.

Previous: VA whistleblower complaints allege abuse, retaliation from regional director

“The public nature of these disagreements affected VISN leadership stability.”

The report made multiple mentions of the fact that nearly all of the VISN leadership was working in an acting capacity and many of the top leaders—including the then-acting director—had been on the job less than a year.

During the period of the review, the OIG found problems with staffing and recruitment, which led to increased wait times.

“The OIG’s review of access metrics and clinical vacancies identified potential organizational risk factors at the Durham VA and Fayetteville VA Coastal HCSs,” the report said.

The report also found three doctors at the Salisbury VA Medical Center who had previously had their medical licenses suspended, placed on probation or revoked.

Previous: Second whistleblower details allegations of harassment, retaliation by senior VA official amid inaction by whistleblower protection office

Those licensure actions were not reported by the Salisbury VAMC leadership to the appropriate supervisors at the VISN, the report said.

“The OIG reviewed profile information for 532 physicians, using publicly available data and VetPro, and did not find evidence that the VISN CMO approved the VA appointment for 3 physicians who had a potentially disqualifying licensure action,” the report said.

“In all the following cases, failure to conduct the required review could result in inappropriate hiring decisions that jeopardize the quality of patient care.”

A VISN spokeswoman did not immediately have a response to the report when it was released on Tuesday but provided the following statement late Wednesday afternoon:

Overall Comment:

“The VA’s Office of Inspector General’s triannual inspection acts as a check and balance to our internal VA reviews, working together to ensure all areas of our operations meet applicable standards and that issues identified are immediately addressed. We appreciate and welcome OIG’s comprehensive report and will continue making improvements based on their recommendations to ensure our Veterans receive the highest quality of care.”

Response regarding the physician finding for Salisbury VA:

“We want to assure the public that all three physicians listed in the report are appropriately credentialed and remain fully committed to providing the exceptional care that our Veterans have earned.

In May 2021, following the OIG draft recommendations, a VISN 6 and Salisbury VA leadership team immediately assembled to conduct a more thorough evaluation of the three physicians listed in the OIG report. It was discovered that in-depth reviews were completed appropriately by the facility and that the minor adverse actions found were not believed at the time to require a secondary VISN review. Since that time, credentialing and verification reeducation have been conducted, and the physician’s credentials have gone through two licensure reviews at the facility level, the region, OIG, and with VA’s Office of General Counsel, and all three physicians listed were found to be appropriately credentialed.

VISN 6 leadership takes the credentialing and verification process of any potential employee very seriously and will continue to audit region-wide adherence to the national hiring policy.”

Response regarding the stability of VISN 6 leadership:

“Currently, four of the five leadership roles in VISN 6 are permanently filled. Mr. Paul Crews was appointed as the VISN 6 Network Director on October 10, 2021. Dr. James M. Goff Jr. is scheduled to start as the new VISN 6 Chief Medical Officer on April 10, 2022, and leadership is in the final stages of appointing a permanent VISN 6 Deputy Network Director. Public notifications will continue to be released as leadership selections are made throughout VISN 6.”

Copyright 2022 WBTV. All rights reserved.