More than 10 months after U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy wrote to former Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Eric Shinseki asking what disciplinary action would be taken in the wake a Legionella outbreak at a Pittsburgh hospital, he has gotten an answer of sorts.
On Friday, the VA announced that Pittsburgh Healthcare System director and CEO Terry Wolf was placed on administrative leave, “pending the completion of administrative actions related to the Legionella outbreak.”
The action comes more than three years after the start of the outbreak which caused the deaths of at least six veterans sickened more than 20 others.
Murphy says placing Wolf on leave is the very least the VA could do.
“This is a far cry from what needs to be done,” Murphy said. “The VA needs to change how they’re handling things. This is a bureaucratic mess and it cannot be solved only by putting some people on leave.”
Murphy says Congress is moving toward giving the VA the power and authority to fire some people that “have not been doing their jobs.”
“You can’t have the blind leading the blind anymore,” Murphy said. “The VA has been looking within themselves for other ways to fix a system which has been a mess for at least half a century.”
Instead, Murphy said the VA needs to reach out to other non-VA hospitals for help and advice.
“For those (VA) hospitals that have problems, pair them up with other hospitals that are nearby them which are … already identified as being centers of excellence,” Murphy said. “Then have those hospital systems work with them to make recommendations … on what those places could do better.”
Murphy said one area for immediate improvement is customer service, noting that he gets “better service from a car dealer than veterans get from the hospital.” Murphy suggested that every veteran who contacts VA healthcare facilities should be asked to provide feedback on their experience, whether or not they actually received medical care. He said bonuses for VA executives should be based on positive health outcomes and feedback from veterans, not on “the amount of paperwork moved.”
Murphy also said the VA needs to be more forthcoming about the challenges they face, whether due to internal or external factors. He said e-mails surfaced in the wake of both the Legionella outbreak and the waitlist scandal showing that top VA officials wanted to delay informing Congress and the media about the problems.
“As long as they maintain this culture of secrecy and deception, it going to be one that is not open to any kind of change,” Murphy said. “I have not felt, and I still don’t feel, like the VA is being open and honest with us. That’s something else that we’re going to have to work towards changing.”
Department of Veterans Affairs spokesperson Ramona Joyce said they have no further statement at this time.