Fourteen months after controversy, former Cincinnati VA chief is suspended without pay

Posted at 1:33 PM, Apr 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-25 19:02:21-04

CINCINNATI - A former acting chief of staff at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center has been suspended without pay, more than a year after whistleblowers accused Dr. Barbara Temeck of initiating a series of management actions that forced out experienced surgeons, reduced access to care and put patients in harm’s way.

“Dr. Temeck has been suspended indefinitely without pay effective today,” said Randy Noller, a spokesman for the VA in Washington, D.C.

RELATED: All of WCPO's coverage of the Cincinnati VA Medical Center

A joint investigation by the Scripps Washington Bureau and WCPO led to Dr. Temeck’s demotion with full pay in February of 2016.

That was followed by several management changes and a series of investigations that did not substantiate “any impropriety” regarding the “quality of care for veterans” but did substantiate an allegation that Dr. Temeck prescribed controlled substances to the wife of her regional boss, former VA Network Director Jack Hetrick.

After her demotion, Dr. Temeck filed a whistleblower complaint alleging she was unfairly targeted by surgical staffers from the University of Cincinnati who wasted millions of dollars at the Cincinnati VA by collecting "full-time salaries and benefits" for "less than full-time work."

In a two-page statement to WCPO, her attorney Ken Hawley said Dr. Temeck will appeal the suspension. Read the full statement here.

"This is unfortunate for the Cincinnati VA Medical Center," Hawley said. "Their best resource has been suspended."

On the one-year anniversary of the Cincinnati VA controversy, whistleblowers told WCPO that much had improved in the 12 months following Dr. Temeck’s departure.

“We’ve got dynamic, honest people running the hospital right now,” said Dr. Richard Freiberg, former chief of orthopedics at the Cincinnati VA. “Yes, it’s on the right track.”

The hospital recruited three new orthopedic surgeons and invested $1 million on new equipment to sterilize surgical equipment. This, after Dr. Freiberg and others complained Dr. Temeck forced out experienced surgeons and caused veterans to seek care outside the VA system.

Whistleblowers also complained that Dr. Temeck told operating-room staff they were being "too picky" when they reported surgical instruments delivered to operating rooms with blood and bone chips from previous surgeries.

While the VA maintained throughout that no veterans were harmed by improperly sterilized surgical equipment, it also replaced the hospital’s chief of sterile processing and completed a multi-year project to modernize the cleaning facility and move it closer to VA operating rooms.