Friday, July 11, 2014

VA corruption and incompetence not restricted to 'gaming'

Here is a great OpEd by my good friend Patricia Campion. Please read. Since this article was first published at Brenner Brief News, congress held hearings regarding the targeting and illegal retributions taken against VA whistle-blowers by VA "senior leaders" (at the local levels) and SEIU thugs, including, allegedly, Patricia Morrison.

Seriously… why are illiterates, bullies and liars running the VA?

PHOTO CREDIT:, free for public use
PHOTO CREDIT:, free for public use
Over the past few months, I have written several investigative stories exposing the litany of problems, which have been plaguing New York’s Buffalo Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center for years.  By now, these reports should have all but smothered any semblance of credibility the Buffalo VA leadership had left in a self-woven shroud of utter incompetence and scurrilous deceit. They should be fired. They should all be fired. But at this point, I have only one question: Why are illiterates, bullies and liars running the VA?
I’ll start with the “illiterates.”
As I reported for Brenner Brief News May 23 and June 5, Larry L. McCurdy is the chief of the Sterile Processing Services (SPS) department at the Buffalo VA Medical Center. However, as evidenced by a series of emails I obtained through a channel of inside sources — sent out to his staff between Sept. 30 and Oct. 22 of 2013 — McCurdy has the spelling and grammar skills of a five-year-old.
Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013:
There will be no staff meeting this Thursday, we will start having staff meeting once a month and pass information via email in between time there will be a CREW meet next Thurs 09-12-13 at 1300.
Additionally I prefer the approach of teaching and learning but it is getting out of control where we are not labeling set correctly or not counting properly saying there is 6 items and there may only be 4, please consider this as a wake-up call for everyone focus on the set that you are doing at the time. Label sets and item correctly is causing pataient to be exposed to ansthesia
Monday, Sept. 9, 2013:
During an walk through of the department it was noted that there was an excessive amount of trays not being assembled, unexcitable upon inquiring about staff members, you have a right to go to the union office you must get permission to go, NO ONE IS TO GO TO THE UNION WITHOUT GETTING PERMISSION, you will be count AWOL, from the time I notice that you are gone until the time I see you back in the space. This is part of your union reg.
Monday, Oct. 7, 2013:
Effective immediately every set must that is assembled must have a second signature, this is getting ridiculous that people is saying that there is 2 items on a set when there is only one or the is items that are on sets that are not there.
Tuesday, Oct. 8 2013:
Thursday is CREW training is mandatory for everyone, if you got questions as so if you have to attend talk to me, but the answer will be yes you have to attend.
This is for everyone it is important that we reduce the number of close calls that is being generated I will be meeting with the OR to address some identified issues but we have to do what is expected of us in a professional manner, I don’t buy into the concept “The beating will continue until the Moral improve”. So that being said I do expect people to do their job and to do it correctly.
Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013:
Today there was several instruments sets opened in the Cath Lab that was dirty, upon examin of the sets 2 of them contained blood, the first part of assembly of a set is inspection of instrumentation before putting in the tray, this step was obvious missed on f few occasions, all is to be manual cleaned prior to putting the in the ultrasonic or automatic washer and inspected for cleanliness as well as proper functionality the first place this should be done is in decontamination, and finally in Prep during the assembly process> This is the last day that Cath Lab or any place else will receive dirty instruments from people not inspecting sets, any farther instances of this will be handled as a behavior issue not as a performance issue, or you not knowing jobs, I am convinced that everyone here knows their job, so do your jobs. This issue led to several patient being delayed.
Aside from McCurdy, the individual who logged the April 22 incident on the “Close Call/Reported Issues in SPS-April” report — one of 16 incidents – described what happened in the Cardiac operating room when a “side arm attachment” was “missing from mitral valve extra pan.”
Patient had prolonged time under anesthesia and surgeon experienced difficulty in permaing procedure.
Also “missing” was the word “retractor” after “mitral valve.”
When trying to determine who should ultimately be held responsible for the “ridiculous” level of chronic incompetence being displayed by SPS employees and why it’s “getting out of control,” McCurdy’s sign-off on the Oct. 22, 2013 email pretty much said it all…
Thank Larry
“In his emails about the sterilization problem,” Jerry Zremski reported for The Buffalo News Monday, citing the emails I exposed, “McCurdy appeared to take the sterilization issue seriously. But ironically, both of his messages to hospital employees were rife with grammatical, syntax and spelling errors.”
“Seeing that,” Zremski added, Rep. Chris Collins, (R-NY), “said the sloppiness of McCurdy’s emails, and their lack of an urgent tone, sent hospital employees the wrong message.”
“If he worked for me,” Zremski quoted Collins saying of McCurdy, “I’d fire him this afternoon.”
Granted, it’s only one word, but even author of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website page for the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8) Office of Communication doesn’t seem to be aware that the “i before e, except after c”  thing doesn’t apply to the word “receiving.”
We will contact you promptly after recieving your message.
With the millions of taxpayer dollars the government spends on its various websites, one would think they would invest in a program that included spell check. Then again, this is the same government that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a chronically glitch-riddled health care website and fired its email storage contractor weeks after the IRS claimed that Lois Lerner’s hard-drive crash caused all of her emails to federal agencies — including those she may have sent to the White House — to go… poof.
Then there are the “bullies.”
As Josh Hicks reported for The Washington Post June 5, “the Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations that the Department of Veterans Affairs retaliated against 37 whistleblowers, including some who tried to report actions related to the agency’s recent scheduling scandal.”
Through multiple interviews with past and present employees, I have exposed how whistleblowers are treated by supervisors, management and union leaders at the Buffalo VA Medical Center. Lisa Magin and Jim CarneyGerald Rakiecki and Leon Davis. They all tell the same story, a story about inept leadership engaging in unethical practices, cover-ups and lies and making damn sure that whistleblowers are silenced or catching hell.
So what if the required posters are hung in prominent places in employee areas of every VA facility across the United States — informing those employees that they are obligated by federal law to report violations – if those in positions of leadership at those facilities band together to make sure whistleblowers are too afraid to speak out? Who cares if acts of whistleblower reprisal are against the law and bear the threat of penalties  – outlined on page I-A-8 of VA Handbook 5021/15 — if those who commit those acts of whistleblower retaliation know they won’t be held accountable?
While Hicks also reported that the VA – now under the leadership of Acting Director Sloan Gibson — issued a statement, assuring VA employees that it is “committed to whistleblower protection and creating an environment in which employees feel free to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal, I reported for Brenner Brief News June 9 that former VA Director Eric Shinseki “issued the same message of ‘commitment’ – almost verbatim – more than two years ago.”
Like my grandmother always said, every time I’d catch hell from my parents for slacking off on my chores and I’d try to convince her that I always did what I was supposed to do: “The only reason why you have to keep telling someone something is because you know it isn’t already obvious.”
Now, for the “liars.”
As Zremski also reported Monday, “Evangeline Conley, a spokeswoman for the VA Western NY Healthcare System, said in a statement that the VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector did not find violations or apparent violations of any laws, mandatory rules or regulations.”
That’s a lie.
“In Buffalo, NY,” Carolyn N. Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel explained in a June 23 letter to President Barack Obama, “OMI substantiated a whistleblower’s allegation that health care professionals do not always comply with VA sterilization standards for wearing personal protective equipment, and that these workers occasionally failed to place indicator strips in surgical trays and mislabeled sterile instruments.”
As I reported for Brenner Brief News Saturday, “what OMI denied was “that the confirmed allegations affected patient safety.”
Then again, Conley also played a part in the VA’s effort to downplay the risks to patient safety after reports surfaced in January 2013 that “more than 700 patients at the Buffalo Veterans Administration Center may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C because of accidental reuse of insulin pens” between Oct. 19, 2010 and November 2012.
“Veterans in western New York State will have better access to their medical records under an improvement plan being implemented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),” reads the April 16, 2013 press release issued by the Office of Special Council.
Of course, this announcement was based on assurances made to the OSC by Buffalo VA leadership that everything was fixed.
“They lied,” Leon Davis told me point-blank, in an interview for my June 10 report for Brenner Brief News.
“They didn’t complete everything,” said Davis, currently employed at the Buffalo VA as a medical records technician. “That’s what this is all about. As of right now, there are still issues from our original disclosure that haven’t been resolved. So basically, right now, they’re in cover-up mode.”
About the claim that reusing insulin pens was an accident?
That has to be a lie.
How can you define the act of knowingly reusing insulin pens – for more than two years — as an “accident”?
As for Conley’s insistence in Zremsky’s Buffalo News report — that “the hospital takes any whistle-blower complaint seriously” — and the reiteration of that statement to me for my report on Saturday — that the “VA Western New York Healthcare System takes any allegations involving safety and patient care very seriously to include a robust patient safety reporting process, encouraging staff to bring concerns forward” and that “any adverse incident that potentially affects one Veteran within our care is one too many therefore, we aggressively identify, correct and work to prevent additional risks” — good God, what a pack of lies.
(Insert my grandmother’s saying, about the reason why you feel you have to keep telling someone something, here.)
Prior to his resignation, there were numerous reports saying Shinseki – who vowed to fix the problems – must “act now” to restore confidence in the VA. After he resigned, similar reports said the same of Gibson, who also promised to “fix things” and “restore veterans’ trust.”
As an investigative reporter, I know I’m supposed to remain detached. Gather the facts, tell the story… check your emotions and opinions at the door and move on.
But in this case, especially in this case… I just can’t move on without venting.
The part that grinds me the most is, no matter which Buffalo whistleblower I’ve spoken with — Magin, Carney, Rakiecki and Davis — every one of them have told me that, while they knew they’d catch hell, and did catch hell, for reporting the problems they observed… they considered the risk (and the subsequent reality) of the retribution they suffered personally was of no consequence.
When it came to their decision of saving “self” through silence, or risking all to stand up for our veterans, they ultimately threw their personal worries — dealing with harassment, facing threats of demotion and/or termination — out the window and wrapped their loyal arms around the deserving lives of our veterans.
It sickens me..
During the many hours in which I’ve spoken by phone to the aforementioned whistleblowers (and those whose stories I have heard, but have yet to tell), we’ve laughed together, raged together… cried together.
The things they’ve told me “off the record,” the things they’ve shared with me intimately… privately… I will — because they have made me promise to do so — hold in confidence until I’m dead. But I will never forget the faith they’ve handed to me by allowing me to listen, and to tell the parts of their stories, which they have entrusted me to tell.
So, considering everything I have learned (and reported) about the shenanigans going on at the Buffalo VA Medical Center for the past few months, and the mounting evidence that shows these problems are systemic, nationwide and have existed for years and how – despite numerous denials and/or assurances that the problems have been/will be/are being resolved — nothing has changed, I ask again:
Why are illiterates, bullies and liars running the VA?