WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials re-assigned the director of their Oregon medical center on the same day they promised a new push to improve their worst-performing facilities across the country.
Doug Paxton, who had been the top official at the VA Roseburg Healthcare System since October 2014, was forced out of the post but not fired from the department. Instead, he’ll take over the assistant director job at the West Virginia VA Medical Center starting next week.
In a statement Thursday, Veterans Health Administration Executive in Charge Carolyn Clancy said the move was “necessary as a step to improve care for veterans” in Oregon.
“There are times that facility leadership needs to change in order to usher in a new approach that will demonstrate we are committed to delivering results for veterans and taxpayers,” she added.
Last month, the Oregon center’s chief of surgery resigned amid a VA investigation into problems with veterans care and whistleblower retaliation. VA officials said that David Whitmer, currently chief operating officer of the Sunshine Health Network in Florida, will serve as interim director during the search for a permanent replacement.
The Roseburg facility is one of 15 “low-performing” centers under VA’s rating system. Shortly after news of Paxton’s firing became public, department officials also announced new initiatives aimed at cleaning up problems at those locations, to include outside teams of health experts advising on needed changes in operations and management.
Peter Almenoff — director of VA’s Office of Reporting, Analytics, Performance, Improvement and Deployment — will oversee the work. Officials said they will being quarterly reviews of the substandard facilities.
“We will employ tight timelines for facilities to demonstrate improvement, and if low performance persists, we will make swift changes — including replacing facility leaders — until we achieve the rapid improvements that veterans and taxpayers expect from VA,” department Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement.
Along with the Oregon site, the other facilities targeted in the new initiative include three in Tennessee (Memphis, Murfreesboro and Nashville), three in Texas (Harlingen, El Paso and Big Spring), and individual sites in Virginia (Hampton), Colorado (Denver), Georgia (Dublin), Mississippi (Jackson), California (Loma Linda), Washington (Walla Walla), and Arizona (Phoenix).
It also includes the Washington D.C. medical center, which sits just a few miles from the White House but has been among the most problematic sites for the department in recent years, with reports of substandard care and mismanagement by local officials.
According to VA records, seven senior department leaders have been demoted (including Paxton) and eight more fired since January 2017.