WASHINGTON — Top leaders at a New Hampshire Veterans Affairs Medical Center were swiftly removed from their posts Sunday after a scathing article portrayed the facility as unsanitary and disorganized, despite internal ratings labeling it as one of the agency's best facilities.
On Saturday, the Boston Globe chronicled multiple problems at the VA-labeled four-star facility, including flies in surgical rooms, poorly-maintained medical equipment and an administration that ignores the best interests of patients.
The newspaper quoted the center's chief of medicine — one of at least 11 whistleblowers filing complaints about conditions there — as saying he had "never seen a hospital run this poorly — every day it gets worse and worse."
In a statement Sunday, Shulkin called the allegations "serious" and said he was removing the director (Danielle Ocker) and chief of staff (James Schlosser) at the facility immediately.
"We want our veterans and our staff to have confidence in the care we're providing," the statement said. "I have been clear about the importance of transparency, accountability and rapidly fixing any and all problems brought to our attention, and we will do so immediately with these allegations."
Alfred Montoya, director of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, will serve as director pending a full review of the center’s operations. No replacement has yet been named for Schlosser.
The moves come just weeks after the White House signed into law new accountability rules for VA workers, designed to speed up firing of employees found guilty of incompetence or negligence.
However, those rules have not yet been put in place, and the moves at the New Hampshire facility appear to fall under the same workplace authorities as in the past.
Shulkin has said promised to improve accountability within VA, saying that not properly punishing bad employees hurts morale across the workforce. But he has also said the new firing rules will not result in large waves of firings.
His moves so far have generally drawn praise from lawmakers. On Sunday, Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H. — who in the past has reported problems at the facility to the VA Inspector General — said in a statement that she appreciated the quick action.
"The reports concerning the Manchester VA Medical Center are simply unacceptable," she said. ""Our veterans deserve much better."
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.