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VA secretary to announce new leader for DC hospital

Robert Wilkie, shown here at his Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on June 27, 2018, has been confirmed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 7, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs secretary plans to announce a new, permanent leader for the Washington veterans hospital in the coming weeks after conditions at the facility were reported last month to have deteriorated to a critical level.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who’s been on the job for one week, visited the Washington DC VA Medical Center on Monday to meet with hospital leaders. In a statement after his visit, the VA announced it found a new leader for the facility who will begin work “in the near future.”

In July, a senior VA health official warned the hospital’s administration that they were under review because of deteriorating conditions there during the first half of 2018. The hospital was found not to be improving fast enough, despite VA executives intervening more than a year ago.

The Washington hospital, located in northwest Washington just a few miles from VA headquarters, has been under scrutiny since April 2017, when Inspector General Michael Missal warned VA officials that veterans were being put at unnecessary risk because of supply shortages. The warning prompted then-VA Secretary David Shulkin to fire the hospital director, Brian Hawkins.

Since then, the hospital has been led by two temporary directors, retired Army Col. Larry Connell and Adam Robinson, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System.

Connell, who previously worked on President Donald Trump’s transition team and as an adviser to Shulkin, led the Washington facility for one year. He was reassigned in April amid an investigation into whether his appointment to the position broke federal protocols.

Robinson was assigned to lead the Washington hospital for 120 days, which ends this month. He will return to his position in Maryland, the VA said. Hospital Chief of Staff Charles Faselis will take over for two weeks until the permanent director steps into the job.

The VA did not give any further details Tuesday about when the new hospital chief would be named.

Last week, an anonymous group of employees at the Washington hospital sent a letter to Wilkie and other top VA officials, urging them to take action to improve conditions there.

“We ask you, our respected leaders, to stop this cover up and incompetence, to really care and live up to America’s promise to its heroes,” they wrote. “Enough is enough.”

During its investigation, the Office of Inspector General discovered a culture of complacency at the Washington hospital had allowed widespread failures to persist for years.

Since the results of the investigation were released in the spring, inspection reports from the Food and Drug Administration and the VA’s National Program Office for Sterile Processing have revealed ongoing problems. The reports, obtained by Stars and Stripes, detailed instances of dirty syringe bottles, unsanitary conditions, rooms in disarray and staff and supply shortages that led to canceled procedures.

On Monday, the VA said the hospital had addressed six of 25 recommendations that the inspector general issued for improving the facility. Wilkie said there had been “substantial improvements” and that hospital leaders “have a strong plan ahead for even more progress in coming weeks.”

“We had a good visit today, and I appreciated hearing from facility and regional leadership on the important work that has been done to address the inspector general’s concerns, as well as plans for resolving all its remaining recommendations,” Wilkie said in a statement.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

Patient and visitor parking at the Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

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