Writing a top VA official on Wednesday, Sen. Mark Kirk said $16.6 million in bonuses have been awarded at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in west suburban Chicago since 2011 and asked whether waiting times for patients had been manipulated there so criteria for the bonuses could be met.
Kirk’s letter to Richard Griffin, acting inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs, cites Freedom of Information Act requests as the source of the information about the bonuses.
The FOIA requests were made by Germaine Clarno, a Hines social worker and president of the American Federation of Government Employees VA Local 781, according to Kirk press secretary Danielle Varallo. Clarno "shared the information with us," Varallo said today.
Clarno has alleged that Hines patients were kept on secret waiting lists so hospital executives could collect bonuses linked to meeting standards for speedy treatment.
Last week, auditors visited Hines as part of a national review of VA medical facilities prompted by allegations that patients at a VA hospital in Phoenix died as a result of scheduling delays.
Kirk, R-Ill., a retired Navy reservist, also pointed to a Cox Media Group database indicating there may have been five cases in which delays in referrals, consultations, diagnoses or treatment may have resulted in veterans’ deaths at Hines.
Citing the database, Kirk asked Griffin if delays in scheduling or treatment had resulted in death, suicide or the “exacerbation of illness” of any patients at a VA hospital in Illinois.
“It is my fear that there is a pervasive and systemic culture of bureaucratic dysfunction within the VA,” Kirk wrote.
Kirk’s letter also referred to an internal memo from Joan Ricard, the director of Hines, on May 8. The memo said in part: “Over the years, with the complexity of the scheduling process and the pressure to improve reported results, there may have been instances across the VA where staff has taken steps to make wait times look better.”
“I am concerned,” Kirk wrote, “that this statement admits to the practice of manipulating wait times.”
The senator asked Griffin if wait times and scheduling had been manipulated to “provide a positive impression of veteran health care” at any Illinois VA hospital.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., plans to meet with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki today to discuss reports that VA hospitals, including Hines, used secret lists to conceal the actual time veterans waited for care.
A Hines spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment today.