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Investigation turns to Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center's chiefs of staff

The Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta, Ga.

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs has expanded its investigation into the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center to look more closely into two chiefs of staff, one of whom recently told the board’s chairman that he made supervisors aware of problems in the hospital’s gastrointestinal program years before they became public.

Dr. Michael Spencer, the chief of staff at the Augusta VA, told Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., during a congressional oversight visit Jan. 6 that he had notified supervisors of certain issues but no actions were taken.

In light of the information, which was revealed in a letter sent this week to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Miller has requested a copy of all minutes from meetings involving Spencer; Dr. Luke Stapleton, the former chief of staff; and Richard “Toby” Rose, the associate director.

The committee requested in September a copy of all performance reviews, pay bonuses and disciplinary actions filed since 2007 for the administration of former Director Rebecca Wiley. Parts of the request are just now being delivered.

“Given the nature of the ongoing investigation, we request delivery within 30 days of this letter,” Miller wrote Monday after cautioning VA staffers against destroying, modifying or moving any records.

The committee’s most recent request covers all meetings involving Spencer, Stapleton and Rose dating back to 2006, along with any e-mails or reports that Spencer kept to document the problems he encountered, the supervisors he notified and any corrective actions that were taken.

The letter only states that Spencer encountered problems at least 10 years ago. Pete Scovill, a spokesman for the Augusta VA, did not elaborate on the problems, but said the “medical center will provide all appropriate material to (Shinseki) as requested.”

Before becoming chief of staff in 2012, Spencer served as the head of primary care, the department in which the hospital’s delay of 5,100 gastrointestinal consultations reportedly began.

Between 2011 and July 2012, three cancer patients died and the conditions of four veterans worsened after the management failed to schedule primary physicians’ referrals for 4,500 patients in need of screening, surveillance and diagnostic endoscopies, according to VA reports.

An online newsletter for the Augusta VA dated Aug. 29, 2010, states that Stapleton, 61, became the chief of staff on July 5, 2010.

Today, the VA’s Web site lists him as an oncology doctor and says the former Army colonel of 26 years completed his residency at Fort Gordon’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center after graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1980.

Records kept by the state Composite Medical Board show that Spencer, 55, was licensed June 11, 1987, after graduating from the Medical College of Georgia in 1984.

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