PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has fired the director of the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System a month after the department said internal investigators determine she committed unspecified “conduct unbecoming a senior executive.”
That director, Terry Gerigk Wolf, has been on paid leave since June after a VA review of a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak between February 2011 and November 2012. At least six Pittsburgh VA patients died and 16 were sickened by the bacterial disease that was traced to water treatment problems at the Pittsburgh-area hospitals, which also prompted Congressional hearings.
The department last month said the push to remove Wolf stemmed from an investigation by its Office of Accountability Review. It would not say whether that push was related to the outbreak and never specified any allegations.
Wolf could not immediately be located for comment Thursday.
The VA on Thursday also didn’t list specific concerns about Wolf, but said in a statement “allegations of conduct unbecoming of a senior executive and wasteful spending were substantiated.” VA spokeswoman Ramona Joyce said she could not comment beyond a news release.
“This removal action underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and get Veterans the care they need,” the release said.
With the deputy secretary of the VA before a House committee today, Congressman Tim Murphy wanted to know why Wolf’s deputy director, David Cord, instead of also being fired, has been promoted to the director’s position at the Erie VA Medical Center.
“I think that is indefensible and incomprehensible, and it sends a terrible message to the employees of the VA that if they hide information, and even though people die, you’re going to get promoted,” Congressman Murphy said.
Congressman Murphy got a pledge that Cord’s history and position would be examined.
Meanwhile, the VA says it is making strides towards providing better service.
“Since May, our top priority has been accelerating care to veterans, moving them off wait lists and into clinics. For example we’ve reduced the number of vets waiting the longest for care by 57 percent,” said Sloan Gibson, the VA Deputy Secretary. “From June through September, we’ve completed 19 million appointments, an increase of 1.2 million over the same period in 2013.”
Back here locally, Pittsburgh VA spokesman Mark Ray said the local hospital network had nothing to add to the department’s announcement.
The review is part of new regulations the department has enacted in the wake of a nationwide scandal over veterans waiting too long for medical care or being kept on secret waiting lists so that regional VA directors and others wouldn’t be penalized if certain care access deadlines weren’t met. Eric Shinseki resigned as VA Secretary over the scandal in May.
Under the new accountability standards, Wolf was given a chance to respond to the department’s allegations in writing before Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald decided to fire her.
The Pittsburgh VA’s chief medical officer, David MacPherson, has been named interim director in Pittsburgh.
The Veterans Health Administration will begin searching for Wolf’s replacement soon.
In late September, a patient with pneumonia also tested positive for Legionnaire’s at the Pittsburgh VA University Drive hospital’s emergency room.
But Ray, the Pittsburgh VA spokesman, said Thursday that DNA testing has shown that patient “almost certainly acquired the disease somewhere outside of VA Pittsburgh. The testing of the patient’s legionella did not match any strains of legionella that we have identified in past testing at VA Pittsburgh. The patient was treated and recovered fully.”
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