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Amid Audits of All VA Hospitals, Spokane Union Presidents Have Concerns

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As audits are set to begin at VA medical centers across the country, the presidents of two unions representing VA employees in Spokane say they have several concerns about the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center As audits are set to begin at VA medical centers across the country, the presidents of two unions representing VA employees in Spokane say they have several concerns about the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center
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SPOKANE, Wash. - As audits are set to begin at VA medical centers across the country, the presidents of two unions representing VA employees in Spokane say they have several concerns about the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center.

“We have a great facility and great employees, but attention needs to be brought to some of the things with management,” American Federation of Government Employees’ President Anthony Farrow told KHQ’s Kelsey Watts.

They say, among their concerns: management bonuses despite employees being told the medical center is “financially broke,” talk of scrubbing patient wait lists for procedures like colonoscopies, the former Chief of Surgery signing surgical consents in place of patient signatures, disciplinary action being taken against union leaders for speaking out and allegations of sexual harassment involving the Chief of Staff and a subordinate employee.

“Ironically, over some time, the Chief has been allowed to review and reject a number of grievances and appeals regarding harassment within the medical center,” a press release from the union presidents read.

“We said finally to management, we understand this is sensitive but this doesn’t look good and we want to know what’s being done to protect the health of the medical center,” National Federation of Federal Employees’ President Link Miles said.

“Some of the actions by management come off as if they’re trying to be against the employees, as if they’re trying to hide something,” Farrow added.

The Mann-Grandstaff center will participate in the nationwide audit Tuesday, but there is no word as to when results may be available.

The director of the Phoenix VA in question, Sharon Helman, has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation into claims of falsified wait lists at that facility that may have lead to the death of 40 patients. Helman led the VA medical centers in Walla Walla and Spokane prior to her time in Phoenix.

To read the full press release from the union presidents, click here: http://bit.ly/SV97mM

Melody Heppel, Assistant to the Director at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, responded and this is what she had to say: 

"At VA, our most important mission is to provide the high quality health care and benefits Veterans have earned and deserve. As a result of recent, and unconfirmed, allegations regarding wait lists at the VAMC Phoenix, Secretary for Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to complete a nation-wide audit regarding access practices. The purpose of the review is to gain a full understanding of VA’s practices and policies and to ensure continued integrity in managing patient access to care. The Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center will participate in this audit on May 13, 2014.

  • Currently, this facility follows VA’s established scheduling practices and utilizes the official VHA Electronic Wait List (EWL) to manage access to outpatient care. In general, the EWL is used to keep track of new patients (those who have not been seen before in a specific facility or clinic in the previous 24 months) for whom appointments cannot be scheduled in 90 days or less. The EWL is maintained on the VA computer system and is managed, tracked, and reported at multiple levels within VHA.
  • When a new patient requests care, every attempt is made to give them an appointment within 30 days of their desired date. If a Veteran cannot be scheduled for an appointment in the next 90 days, they are listed on the EWL.

For emergency or urgent care needs, the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center has an Emergency Room with 24 hour/7 day a week access. All Veterans are seen, and treated based upon the urgency of their condition.

Our employees have several avenues with which to raise concerns regarding patient safety as follows: reporting incidents to their supervisor, reporting issues to the facility Patient Safety Officer, or raising concerns at Town Hall meetings with the Director. Employees are also able to report concerns to outside, impartial investigators such as the Inspector General. All staff, to include our Union partners, are encouraged and given the opportunity to participate and raise issues at medical center committee meetings and venues such as Town Halls.

The facility is not “broke.” Our Medical Center is required to operate within established budgets, as are all federal agencies. We have adequate funding to provide care to Veterans and are in regular contact with our VISN office to ensure that all needs are being met. Spokane is experiencing a slight population growth right now, and future budgets will reflect this.

The former Chief of Surgery has resigned from employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs. We do not discuss internal personnel matters due to privacy rights.

Regarding the Chief of Staff, we do not discuss internal personnel matters due to privacy rights.

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