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VA Medical Center panel panned

State House Bureau

August 23. 2017 9:41PM
The Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — A task force to recommend changes at the Manchester VA Medical Center has yet to be formed, but members of the state’s congressional delegation want at least one of the medical center whistleblowers to serve on that committee.

Doctors and nurses who went public with their concerns about conditions at the medical center were disappointed on Aug. 6 when Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin announced the formation of the task force, with Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith as its chairman.

Mayo-Smith has served as Network Director for the VA New England Healthcare System since 2008, and is seen by the whistleblowers as part of the problem. He presides over a network of eight VA medical centers and 48 outpatient clinics in the six New England states.

After meeting with Shulkin earlier this month, and learning that he would appoint Mayo-Smith to lead the task force, the whistleblowers alleged that Mayo-Smith has either stonewalled or ignored their persistent demands.

“We thought it was a slap in the face by Shulkin to name him after the whistleblowers had complained directly about his lack of response to all of their concerns,” said Manchester attorney Andrea Amodeo-Vickery, who represents the 11 doctors and nurses.

“The delegation is not happy that he’s the head of it, and if he’s going to stay as the head then there will be a recommendation from the delegation that he put Dr. Stewart Levenson on the task force,” she said.

Levenson, the center’s former medical director, is one of the doctors in the whistleblower group.

Aaron Jacobs, a spokesman for Sen. Maggie Hassan, confirmed that the senator has intervened.

“Sen. Hassan has listened to the concerns raised by whistleblowers regarding having long-term VA leadership, such as Dr. Mayo-Smith, leading this task force, and therefore our office has requested that the VA add a member to the task force along the lines of Dr. Stewart Levenson to make sure that all viewpoints are represented,” he said.

A spokesman for Rep. Carol Shea Porter said she also is pushing for “a diverse range of perspectives,” on the task force, “including Dr. Levenson and other whistleblowers, VA providers, and leaders in New Hampshire’s veterans community.” Rep. Ann McLane Kuster echoed that sentiment.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen met with the whistleblower group Tuesday night, and is drafting a letter on behalf of the delegation, according to her staff.

“Sen. Shaheen agreed to lead a delegation letter to Secretary Shulkin reiterating her request that there be whistleblower representation on the task force,” said Shaheen press secretary Sarah Weinstein.

Investigation continues

Meanwhile, the VA Office of Medical Inspector is continuing its investigation into reports of unsanitary conditions and inadequate patient care at the hospital.

The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, sent a staffer to hold open-door interviews at the hospital last week, in preparation for a subcommittee field hearing in New Hampshire, requested by Kuster, the lead Democrat on the subcommittee.

The hearing has been set for 10 a.m., Sept. 18, at the National Guard Regional Training Center in Pembroke.

Conditions have not changed much since the whistleblowers went public in a Boston Globe Spotlight report last month, according to Amodeo-Vickery. Soon after the report was published, Shulkin removed hospital director, Danielle Ocker, and replaced her with Alfred Montoya, the current director at the White River Junction VA in Vermont.

Chief of staff James Schlosser was also placed on leave. Department of Veterans Affairs Press Secretary Curt Cashour confirmed that neither Ocker nor Schlosser would be named to the task force.

When asked to identify who has been approached to serve, he would only say, “The task force’s membership has not been finalized.”

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